Partnership with IDEO shows product design demonstrates the benefits of soft technology
A major new US exhibition will showcase the work of ElectroTextiles, the British-based switching and sensing company. WorkSpheres, being held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) runs between 8th February and 22nd April 2001 and aims to examine the balance between work and life and the role design plays in devising solutions to work problems.
ElectroTextiles’s work will be shown alongside future products from IBM, MIT and Sony. The company has collaborated closely with designers IDEO on the Fabrications exhibit, which is a collection of five inter-related communication products that aim to address current communication needs using soft technology. The product set comprises a soft remote control, soft keyboard, soft conference telephone, soft wrist phone and soft mobile phone.
These prototype devices have been designed by IDEO and manufactured from ElectroTextiles ElekTex fabric which combines conductive fabric structures with microchip technology. It is lightweight, durable, flexible, cost competitive and affords designers new opportunities in designing contoured and portable products for emerging product markets.
"Our premise is that soft technology, in the form of smart interactive fabrics, should not be relegated only to 'wearables' or to futuristic inventions. The technology is available for designing into products now" commented Chris Chapman, development director, ElectroTextiles. "Using a combination of our flexible ElekTex soft technology and the design skills of IDEO we believe it is possible to build products that combine all the functionality of their hard cousins with the benefits and intrinsic appeal of soft devices. WorkSpheres demonstrates that these products are not only viable, but can dramatically change the way we communicate."
Workspheres examines the balance between work and life, and the important role designers play in devising effective solutions for the ever-changing work paradigms. The exhibition features six built concepts of work tools and environments designed by Naoto Fukasawa of IDEO; Martí Guixé; Hella Jongerius; Lot/Ek Architects; the MIT Media Laboratory/John Maeda and Joe Paradiso; and a team made up of Jeff Reuschel and Ronna Alexander, Brian Alexander, Christopher Budd, Kevin Estrada,and Brad Paley. The concepts bring to life realistic visions of the near future and range in size and type from entire working environments to computer interfaces and personal accessories. The exhibition also presents a selection of prototypes already under development and available products that are designed with sensible and sensitive attention to the way we really want to work.
About the ElectroTextiles/IDEO products:
The conference telephone receives, transmits and records voice communications and is constructed from three-dimensionally formed ElekTex laminated to an NXT flat speaker panel as part of the main speaker body. The keypad is integrated with the ElekTex fabric and volume control is activated by stroking a graphic measure. The result is that there is an increase in tactile feedback since the surface that is touched vibrates more as the volume increases. Dialling feedback is both tactile and tonal.
In addition to its overall softness, the soft remote’s fundamental innovation lies in the fact that the use of ElekTex allows the remote to receive and transmit on two sides; there is no blank ‘back side’. A built-in gravity switch understands which side is up, facing the user, and it activates only this surface; it switches its sensitivity to the opposite side when the remote is turned over. On one side, a keypad allows text input for web TV, while the other side is used for accessing TV and sound.
The soft keyboard is a sister product to the remote and can be used for web or computer applications. The joystick or mouse component can be used from the remote control, as complimentary parts of the same product landscape. The soft keyboard has a qwerty layout, with individual raised keys for each letter. The keys themselves give tactile feedback-- the satisfaction gained from pressing a button. However, the keys do not move separately, as discreet items. Instead, the keyboard is a continuous surface, sensitive to input in the areas beneath the ‘keys’.
The soft phone functions as a mobile phone with a squeezable and bendable body. It consists of two components: a soft body, and a plug-in phone module that migrates easily between the soft phone and the wrist phone. As the cost of producing the soft, ElekTex body is relatively inexpensive, it is designed to be interchangeable - a person might have several soft phone bodies, for use with only one phone module.
The front of the softphone has a graphic scale that uses a stroking action for scrolling the phonebook and a pressing action for selecting. The phone has no keypad as such but instead uses a mirroring LCD interface. At the back, an ElekTex surface, the same dimensions as the front screen, functions like a trackpad, and is navigated by the forefinger.
Soft Wrist Phone
The soft wrist phone was developed in parallel with the soft phone; one phone module migrates between both products. The soft wrist phone has two components, the watch band and the phone module, which is removable. This phone module can be detached from the band entirely to be docked into other products and can be attached to any number of ElekTex bands, allowing a variety of band designs in a range of fabrics. In order to use the phone, the watch is taken off the wrist and the band unrolled. Buttons for the phone are spread across the band length, and stroking the fabric controls scrolling of the phonebook.
ElectroTextiles is a switching and sensing company that develops and licences soft interfacing means. Financially backed by 3i Group, ElectroTextiles is a combination of expertise in electronics, software, fabric structures and production engineering.
ElekTex technology is the first release from ElectroTextiles and is already defining the capabilities of soft interfacing. The technology has been developed to enable creation of a new generation of consumer products with soft, flexible and lightweight interfaces.
ElekTex combines conductive fabric structures with microchip technology. It is lightweight, durable, flexible, cost competitive and affords designers new opportunities in designing contoured and portable products for emerging product markets.
ElectroTextiles has development partners and licensees in several sectors including telecoms, text interfacing, automotive, healthcare, toys and sports/leisurewear.
More information is available at http://www.elektex.com
IDEO is a world leader in the user-centred design of products, services, and environments. It designs user experiences for companies pioneering new ways to provide value for their customers. A history of thousands of projects for dozens of industries has given IDEO an unparalleled ability to define and develop new futures for industry leaders and start-ups alike. For more information visit http://www.ideo.com
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For further information, interviews and photography, contact:
PR for ElectroTextiles
Chris Measures or Stephen Waddington
Tel: +44 (0)20 7494 6570
For more information on WorkSpheres please visit http://www.moma.org
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