Borrowing a familiar phrase, Steve Holmes, vice president of Intel’s new devices group and general manager of the smart devices team, said, “We believe that it takes a village to make really compelling products. It’s about creating a new ecosystem. We strongly believe in partnerships.”
This story first appeared in the October 28, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Holmes invited the fashion industry to join Intel in tapping into the potential of wearable technology, which, by 2017, is expected to be a 278-million-unit industry, according to analysts.
For that to happen, there will have to be a lot of advancements in technology. “There’s going to be a huge effort and a number of new partnerships and new ideas to get the devices into the hands of consumers all over the world,” Holmes said, adding that for wearables to become important to consumers, “they have to become objects of desire. That’s why Intel is so interested in working with the fashion industry.”
One innovation that’s allowed Intel to create wearables is the incredible shrinking processor. Computers have gone from desktop to briefcase to smartphones, which put the processing power into consumers’ pockets. Intel has miniaturized the processor so much that it can fit one billion transistors on the head of a pin. “Intel is working to create pieces that are a lot more digestable for our partners,” Holmes said. “Edison is a good example. It’s a computer that’s a little bigger than a postage stamp. It uses very little power, has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and can be incorporated into any wearable product.”
Cloud connectivity has made advances in wearables possible, Holmes said. “Access to these services and the ability to do processing and store huge amounts of data is what separates the wearables of today and smart devices of today from the embedded systems of decades ago.”
Holmes discussed My Intelligent Communication Accessory, Intel’s partnership with Opening Ceremony and Barneys New York, “because it portends what the future of wearables can be. Most of us think of wearables as companions to the phone. MICA actually has built-in 3G connectivity, can talk to the clouds through a partnership with AT&T and allows you to get your SMS messages and send them and also get notifications. It was designed in collaboration with Opening Ceremony with an eye toward its customers. What’s also interesting about it to me is that it’s a piece of fashion, first.”
MICA, which will be sold at Barneys for holiday, comes in two models: one pearl and the other with lapis lazuli. Ayse Ildeniz, vice president of business development and strategy for Intel’s new devices group, who worked on the project, told WWD prior to the summit that “Opening Ceremony wanted the product to be metal. But a cell phone or radio doesn’t work inside a metal case. We decided it would look like a metal case and have the feel of the metal case, but it’s 18-karat gold-plated. The first design was more rectangular and thicker. Opening Ceremony said it had to be rounder and thinner. It’s been a humongous learning curve.”
“We loved what it stood for: the semiprecious stones on top and the wrapping [wrist band] made of water-snake skin,” said Humberto Leon, cofounder of Opening Ceremony. “We knew we had to leave the metal factor. We loved the symmetry of the dots of semiprecious jewels and the water snake to add the hint of luxury. It’s how we design clothing and how we design shoes. It’s very instinctual.”
Holmes said Intel will be partnering with Milk Studios, through Muzse, its invite-only lab that will gather artists, sports figures and musicians to create an environment where they can experiment with Intel engineers.
“Wearables will bring a unique value proposition,” he said. “It’s about intimacy, immediacy and persistence.” The intimacy of the device being close to the body allows it to pick up things such as a heartbeat or perspiration level. A Bluetooth headset that whispers in the wearer’s ear or a pair of glasses that gives them a message represent immediacy, Holmes said. Persistence is getting a continuous record of your activity, like a Nike Fuel Band.
“There’s certainly technical problems, such as battery life,” said Holmes of the challenges facing wearables in general. “Some of those are being addressed. We’re looking at harvesting energy from body temperature or making batteries that have much longer lifetimes.”
Intel is testing Edison and 3-D printing. A smart dress developed in collaboration with Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht picks up brain waves and heart rate and is sensitive to the proximity of other people. It can light up and tell people to go away or entice them to come closer. “The things that we wear don’t have to be passive,” Holmes said. “They can actively engage in the environment around them.”
In a separate speech, Francis Bitonti, founder of the studio that bears his name, called 3-D printing and the technology behind it a production breakthrough. “Something new is happening and we’re at a point where language can make things,” he said, adding that “3-D printing is driven by computer language. This is going to dramatically change the way we relate to physical matter, the design process and distribution. It’s going to change the way we think of physical goods.”
Bitonti showed an intricate drawing on a screen and said, “This was not made by a person. It was made by an algorithm. What’s behind it is just a simple set of on-and-off decisions. It appears to have intelligence — there are structures coming together and coming apart. We can use these systems to create form.”
Bitonti showed another slide of an algorithm that’s usually used to simulate bird flight. “We’re using it here to conform to a body scan of one of our models,” he said. “Just changing a few parameters of that same algorithm could produce something incredibly different. These are intelligent systems. This isn’t CAD as you know it.”
The next visual was of a dress Bitonti made with a group of students using the same algorithm. “It’s all using desktop printers,” he said. “These are all things you can produce at home for less than $400. The dress is made of a biodegradable corn-based polymer.”
An image showed Dita Von Teese wearing a dress created by Bitonti. “This is the dress I’m most well-known for,” he said. “It’s not a couture garment. Everybody thinks it’s a couture garment.” The dress, which was 3-D-printed, has 3,000 articulated unique joints and is covered with 12,000 crystals. It was assembled from 12 moving parts. “It moves and drapes like fabric,” Bitonti said. “It’s chain mail, 16 micron resolution. That resolution is improving daily.”
Bitonti pondered the implications of all the technology. “If materials do become digital and they’re so easily transported, what does that mean for an object, especially a luxury product?” he said. “What happens to that heirloom watch? What happens to the consumer? Is the consumer going to have to play a really active role in production now? Consumption, my guess, is not a passive thing anymore.”