Trying to merge the worlds of fashion and wearable tech is always a thorny challenge, no matter whether you're Fossil Group and its bevy of designer brands creating smartwatches or a startup breaking into a more niche area.
Meet the latter, Art and Program, a Tokyo-based startup looking to bring a versatile and fashionable tracker to the bodies of backers on Kickstarter. Its device, called SynapseWear, is currently available for an early bird price of $90 ahead of its expected release next March, while a range of specially designed garments are also available to pick up through the campaign.
But what exactly does it do? Well, once stuck to one of Art and Program's garments or clipped onto your regular clothes, the SynapseWear is able to track six things â air quality, temperature, humidity, air pressure, environmental sound, illumination (light) and movement â thanks to its raft of in-built sensors. From there, you can review the data in the companion app and experiment with attaching the sensor to different parts of the body in order to achieve varied results.
"We wanted a device that would be environmentally sensitive in a positive way, and we also wanted something that provided more data and not just alert the user about one thing," ValĂ©rie Lamontagne, founder of 3lectromode, who are collaborating with Art and Program on the project, told Wareable.
"Both my creative partner Alex Reeder and I come from visual arts backgrounds so obviously we have approached wearable tech from a very playful, artistic and aesthetic perspective. And for us that's an area which hasn't really been explored.
"So many wearable devices are under-designed, and we approached the whole project with the intent of making something that could address the whole body. We still tried to make something that's quite mainstream. It's not really that aesthetically provocative, but it's still pleasing to look at," she said.
Keeping things open
Lamontagne told us that SnyapseWear is aimed at an open-ended audience due its many applications, though did indicate the device was initially set to have a more narrowed focus.
"We just wanted to offer a platform and for people to figure out for themselves what they value," she said. "We started the project focusing on a device which could track air quality but then just decided to go a bit crazy and add in a range of things for people to track.
"It can apply differently depending on where you place the device. If you put it on your pant leg and you're using the accelerometer, obviously you're going to get a different set of metrics than if you were to put it on your shoulder and you were collecting illumination readings."
Interestingly, SynapseWear will also be somewhat of a blank canvas for developers to work with, as it will remain open source after launch. This includes the firmware, the app and the server software, meaning users will be free to add features to the app, make their own server or even check if the company is sharing data.
And in the future, Lamontagne hinted that the company will look to explore more practical fields, such as healthcare and industry.
Reviewing whether or not to back a project is usually a simple operation; a device is looking to fill a gap in the wearable and it's either going to command an audience or not.
With SynapseWear, however, the path is a little different. The gap it's aiming to fill isn't overtly obvious, while its audience could be anybody from creative types looking to garner data, a runner trying to keep tabs on movement and air quality during exercise and, well, everybody in between. From a glass half full perspective, this is a positive - it appeals to wider range of people and also provides more niche sensors than any product we can remember.
Its capabilities could grow over time by remaining open source, too, though Lamontagne and the team will have to get the message out to tinkerers.
Get your fashion on
Speaking of which, the company's modest $17,500 goal is over halfway complete, meaning it should soon be able to use the money to fuel slight design tweaks to the final product, add different ways to attach it to clothing and also iron out any software issues. As for its garments, Lamontagne noted that, after 18 months of testing in Japan, these are all ready to go if a backer decides to pair the tech alongside.
Still, there are just days left on the campaign. If it's able to deliver accurate and varied data through its tracking around the body and you also don't mind the innocuous if not invisible design concept, SynapseWear could prove to be worth your investment.