Future of Wearable Tech: Solar-Powered Dresses and Wi-Fi Suits

solar-powered dresses.
Prototype solar-powered dresses by designer Pauline van Dongen. (Image credit: Tanya Lewis)

From fitness trackers to smartwatches, wearable technology is infiltrating the fashion world. But are tech companies creating fashions anyone would actually wear?

A dress that goes transparent when the wearer's heart races, a quilted onesie that doubles as a Wi-Fi hotspot and a chic outfit that sports solar cells are just a few of the latest efforts to make wearable tech more wearable.

Live Science met with several Dutch fashion innovators at this year's South By Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, to find out what's hot in wearable tech. [The 11 Weirdest Gadgets of 2014]

"Intimacy" dress

The "Intimacy 2.0" dress from Studio Roosegaarde. (Image credit: Daan Roosegaarde)

The designers at Studio Roosegaarde have created a provocative dress called "Intimacy" that becomes transparent based on "close and personal encounters" with other people. The dress is made of smart electronic foil that gradually becomes see-through as its wearer's heartbeat increases.

The designers have created two versions of the dress already, and are currently searching for haute-couture designers to develop a third, called Intimacy 3.0.

Walking hotspot

It's said that art imitates life, and that may be true for the "BB.Suit," a baggy onesie that contains a working Wi-Fi hotspot.

The BB.Suit, created by the brand byBorre, was inspired by a project to create vibrating pillows to communicate with dementia patients whose other senses were impaired. While working on that project, the designers developed a method of knitting together fabric with wires and electronics, which inspired the Wi-Fi suit.

Borre Akkersdijk, founder of byBorre, was wearing the baggy quilted suit — part ganster, part oversized onesie — when Live Science met with him. Borre was linked into his suit's hotspot with his iPad at the time. The BB.Suit makers also partnered with the online music platform 22tracks to allow people at SXSW to upload music to the suit's network and stream it from the suit's hotspot.

Solar-powered clothing

For the practical-minded fashionista, Dutch designer Pauline van Dongen is creating dresses and coats that incorporate solar cells, which could be used to power a smartphone or other gadgets. Van Dongen's brand was a finalist in the wearable-technology category at the South By Southwest Accelerator, a live pitch competition held March 8-9.

Van Dongen's solar outfits are still in the prototype phase. The solar cells aren't yet washable, and the garments likely won't be on the market for another 1.5 to two years, van Dongen told Live Science.

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Tanya Lewis
Staff Writer
Tanya was a staff writer for Live Science from 2013 to 2015, covering a wide array of topics, ranging from neuroscience to robotics to strange/cute animals. She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. She has previously written for Science News, Wired, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the radio show Big Picture Science and other places. Tanya has lived on a tropical island, witnessed volcanic eruptions and flown in zero gravity (without losing her lunch!). To find out what her latest project is, you can visit her website.