In the world of nature, animals use their fur as a primary reaction to the environment surrounding them: dogs, cats and mice, for example, bristle their fur as a defensive mechanism or as a form of intimidation. How does it work for human beings? Our facial expressions and bodily movements often betray our mood or feelings.
And what if our clothes spoke for us? What if they sensed aggression and went into defensive mode accordingly? This is the idea behind the Opale project by Behnaz Farahi, a designer, architect, artist, philosopher and innovator in the fashion-tech field. An emotional fashion item that can recognise and respond to the facial expressions of people around, funded by the USC Bridge Art + Science Alliance Research Grant programme and that integrates soft robotics and facial tracking technology, responding to the expressions of onlookers’ faces.
The outfit is composed of a forest of 52,000 fibers incorporated into a silicon base whose fur, just like an animal’s, bristles when the wearer feels under threat or purrs when stroked. It is equipped with a camera that can detect a range of facial expressions, like happiness, sadness, surprise, anger and neutral, and also incorporates an interactive pneumatic system that can respond accordingly. An example? It responds to “anger” by agitated movements. Opale, which is part of an ongoing research project on the relationship between emotional expressions and social interactions, is based on the capacity of computers to recognise different facial expressions, crucially integrating this system into interactive clothing: the opportunities for integration with the worlds of design, fashion and technology are endless.