Meet Social Textiles, the ice-breaking, wearable social network

MIT students have created a wearable network which helps make friends
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LinkedIn, Facebook events, digital badges. No-one has quite cracked the ice-breaker problem.

The fact that 30 people can be standing in a physical room - having uploaded thousands of facts, photos and opinions about themselves to the internet - and unless there's a free bar, you could hear a pin drop over all the new friendships and business connections being made.

MIT - who else - has the answer. A group of students in the Tangible Media Group and Fluid Interface Group have created Social Textiles - a social network that puts your interests on your sleeve. And by sleeve we mean the front of a T-shirt.

The T-shirt features integrated electronics that connect via Bluetooth to your smartphone, in theory running the Social Textiles app. The app detects if there's someone in the same room who shares the same interests as you - say, jazz - and the collar of the shirt buzzes once you're within 12 feet of your potential new buddy.


Then if you shake their hand or touch their shoulder, the T-Shirt senses the connection and the pattern of thermochromatic ink highlights your shared interests, past school or workplace, from a grid of available letters on both your T-shirts.

"Our Facebook and Twitter profiles reach and even impact thousands of people every day, but it doesn't feel like it," Viirj Kan, one of the students on the project, told Fast.Co Design. "But while the way we represent ourselves in social media is intangible, what we wear isn't. We wanted to see if we could merge the two to create social catalysts."

It might sound mad but the T-shirt is just the first design the students tried out to display the information. And the types of personal information shared could extend to wearables lighting up or buzzing if a dating site match is in the vicinity or even an organ donor. Of course, the obvious uses are speed dating, university freshers' weeks and networking events. And it's worth noting that once the T-Shirts have made the connection, you will have to take care of the actual conversation yourself.

Zoologists and astronomers, seems that from the number of available letters on offer for now, you're tough out of luck.

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Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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