So-called "smart clothing" is a futuristic form of clothing that functions as an active device, for example releasing chilled water vapor when it senses its wearer is hot. The term "smart clothing" denotes the presence of embedded electronics. Some forms of smart clothing have been created, but none have really been mass-produced, and many more are the subject of science fiction stories and cannot be made with current technology. Smart clothing is of great interest to the world’s militaries, which often try to pack as much functionality as possible into a single soldier's equipment.
Military and commercial research scientists seek to develop smart clothing that possesses many of the useful properties of computers – the ability to store and manipulate data; display images, text, and video; connect to the Internet; offer input devices; and so on. Other possible features of smart clothing include the ability to detect chemicals in the air, quickly harden on contact with a speeding bullet, change color or opacity, generate power from the wearer’s movement, record the wearer’s speech and activity, and even project an image of the scene behind the wearer, creating a crude form of camouflage-based invisibility. Various “power suits” in science fiction and fantasy display these qualities.
Clothes are usually meant to be soft, light, thin, and flexible, whereas most electronics are hard, heavy, thick, and rigid. Only the most advanced, custom-made electronics have properties desirable in clothing, though many millions of dollars in venture capital are put towards developing such advanced electronics. For example, it is commonly thought that flexible displays will be commercialized before 2010. These will be one of the first big steps toward smart clothing.
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Clothing integrated with electronics exists today, but it cannot really be called “smart.” There is a jacket available which can be plugged into an iPod and used to navigate song lists. Clothing embedded with RFID tags has been used to operate doors which detect the tag and open in response to it. Space suits used by astronauts are dense with miniaturized electronics used for a variety of purposes.
Many futurists think that one day, everyone will wear smart clothing, because it will be so useful. There are few inanimate objects so intimately connected with humans and our daily lives in the way that clothing is, and it would be quite convenient if we could increase its functionality.