Pollution has never been so fashionable: A pair of NYU grad students have created a high-tech sweatshirt emblazoned with pink lungs that suddenly show blue veins when exposed to dirty air.
Nien Lam and Sue Ngo came up with the idea for a class on wearable technologies in the interactive telecommunications program at Tisch School of the Arts.
“The organs in your body are invisible to you, just like pollution and the other silent killers out there,” said Lam, 32, who lives on the upper West Side. ”We wanted to bring up that visualization, bring the inside out,” added Ngo, 27, of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. “This is a stark reminder for yourself and others around you.”
A dime-sized carbon monoxide sensor attached to the sweatshirt detects pollution from cars, factories, and even second-hand smoke. It sits on a microcontroller programmed to send electrical currents through the shirt, warming wires that run under the lungs – or on some shirts, a heart. Because the organs are made of thermochromic fabric that changes color dramatically when heated, blue veins become visible when the sensor finds toxins in the air.
“They went for something that’s at once subtle and quite in your face,” said designer Despina Papadopoulos, who co-taught the class. “It was a perfect project. It’s a conversation starter.”
Some of the conversations have been awkward. ”Students going out for a cigarette came up to us and told us they feel guilty,” Lam said with a chuckle. Ngo said she tried to kick the habit after making the shirts. ”I smoke less,” she said. “I don’t really smoke anymore.”
The duo hope to find a way to cheaply mass produce the shirts, which use about $60 worth of material, and organize mobs to wear them around the city.They are also experimenting with other kinds of sensors – including a booze detector. ”If you were drinking alcohol,” Ngo explained, “the sensor would pick up the fumes and change the color of the liver.”
I love this. It’s right up my street – non-invasive interactions that provoke a deeper train of thought. I’ve been working with a girl who studies textiles at Dundee University to help make her work interactive – she is interested in producing maternity clothing which reacts when people are smoking around you, to make you (and the others around you) aware that the smoke could be damaging your baby. Aside from the interaction design, I love how something like this can have a huge social impact.