Environmental Sensing

We rely heavily on our natural senses (touch, sight, sound, smell) to keep us out of danger. Recent events are likely to have a lasting impact on the public's awareness that there are an increasing number of hazards that our biological senses do not help us avoid. This desire for enhanced personal area environmental awareness is not simply a function of the anthrax scare. We will increasingly want to know more about the safety of air we breath, the water that we drink, and the things we touch. This must be accomplished without bulky instrumentation and provide realtime feedback. I expect considerable commercial effort to be devoted towards transparent technology for personal environmental sensing. This may take the form of clothing that contains chemicals that change color in the presence of certain biohazards. Equally, we can expect a new generation of nano-sensors, custom-built to detect the presence of specific molecules, to be built into our clothing. Wearable technology presents great design challenges given the need to fold and wash the fabrics, maintain wearability, fashion, and light weight. For this reason, we should expect development in this arena to focus on chemical and nano-scale sensing. We have long expected our clothing to protect us from our surroundings — whether it be from the cold, UV radiation, or industrial hazards. Designing clothes that provide protection (through awareness) from other environmental hazards is a logical extension of the function of clothing to date.

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