We've been intrigued about Madison Maxey's New York smart fabrics startup Loomia since we chatted to her after its Topshop Top Pitch win earlier this year. With a new developer kit up for pre-order and due in February 2017, we decided to check in with Maxey's studio to find out more about the team's ambitions for providing the basis for connected textiles.
Loomia, a Startup of the Year nominee at the first Wareable Tech Awards, is based at the New Lab in Brooklyn, New York, a communal space for tech entrepreneurs. It develops a combination of thread- and ink-based, soft, flexible textile circuits designed to give smart clothing various functions including capacitive touch and haptic feedback capabilities.
Where most wearable technology for measuring health monitors one area‚ÄĒwristwatches, heart monitors, etc. - the idea is that electrical conduits in your clothing can measure and interpret the movement or temperature of your body across multiple points of your anatomy. The sensors can then send that data back to a centralized hub for output to your smartphone or back to the garments.
Building blocks for textile innovation
Maxey described the "simple building blocks" that her team is developing: straight lines, curved connectors, and serpentines, all designed with the contours of our clothing in mind. By keeping things simple, she ensures her clients have more variability for their own designs. You can graphically design your smart clothing knowing that the electrical circuits will conform exactly to geometric shapes.
The ink patterns can be printed on stretchable materials that are naturally insulated from water and sweat, whereas traditional wires have a finite number of wash cycles without additional insulation.
Creating simple, printable, stretchable smart fabrics is an essential step for smart clothing manufacturing, says Maxey, because she doesn't believe companies can scale to reach a mass consumer audience without that solid foundation.
"For a lot of companies, they create a sample use case for a smart garment that costs a lot of time and money to produce, and then once they can't find a traditional market for such an expensive product, they give up," Loomia's founder explained.
Looking for problems to solve
With Loomia's upcoming development kit of smart fabric, the startup hopes to reduce the overhead and manufacturing time for these companies so that products can be mass produced.
Some potential uses, like conducting heat for regulating body temperature, have received a lot of buzz - this was one of the use cases which appealed to Topshop when Loomia won its Top Pitch competition.
Our workplaces may also end up giving workers smart clothing to protect them from costly injuries. A garment could measure the posture of the wearer as they work via haptic feedback, warning them if their bad posture puts them at risk for muscle strain. That said, Maxey admits that measuring and interpreting this data has proven tricky.
When it comes to finding other uses for their materials, Maxey and her team carry out a lot of research, finding companies interested in smart devices, approaching them to ask what problems they or their customers need solved, and then providing them with the materials to solve their problem. For instance, the team has been researching conductive charging pockets that could store up static energy to power your devices.
So, what's coming up for Loomia? "There's definitely room to improve how we do wiring, and how we solder connection points between different wires. We also want to improve the battery life and power of our devices, but I don't feel as qualified to make those improvements," she finished, with a laugh.
Then there's the developer kit which Maxey tells us she is taking pre-orders for - we'll have more details on that soon.
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The potential uses for this tech are so varied that the small Loomia team tries to stay strictly in the "materials" side of the industry and only facilitate other companies' creations instead of making their own sellable products - though when asked the inevitable question, Maxey did quip, "Never say never!"