So, how can you design smart clothing?

Aura powered suit by Yves Behar and Superflex.

This week the London Design Museum has a new exhibition opening up that explores the impact design can have on old age. Titled “NEW OLD” it has got a bit of attention in design circles for one item in particular. Yves Behar and SRI Robotics spin-off, Superflex, teamed up to create Aura, a powered suit that augments the wearer’s muscle strength, allowing them to do regular activities like a younger, more able-bodied, person.

Close up on the hexagonal power supply

Whilst most of the articles on this design focus on the complete design and how it actually enhances the wearer’s muscle strength, the interesting thing for me is the garment itself. The suit successfully transforms the power supply, traditionally a flat and rigid component, into a flexible array of hexagonal pods that bend and stretch with the body’s movement.

Hexagonal power pods are located on the back and legs of the suit

Though the design is still in its prototype phase (Superflex are hoping for a commercial release around the middle of 2018), its safe to say some form of the flexible lattice concept will make it into the final product. The natural extension to this design would be to swap the single grooved grey piece of material the hexagonal pods are mounted to, for a series of elasticized strips that slide over the wearers muscles like the tendons underneath. This level of anatomical pairing, and the removal of any rigid components on regular contact points, like the underside of the legs whilst seated, will go a long way to making the garment imperceptible.

This design is an interesting use of wearable technology, a field with great promise but delivered little, and mostly been limited to glorified fitness trackers. Expect several of the more heavily invested players (Apple, Google, Samsung, etc) to investigate similar applications.

The NEW OLD exhibition runs at the London Design Museum from January 12 to February 19, 2017.