Pine cone clothes

A new type of ‘smart’ clothing which adapts to changing temperatures to keep the wearer comfortable is being developed at the University of Bath and the London College of Fashion.

In the design of the material for the clothes, Bath biomimetics specialist Professor Julian Vincent plans to mimick the way that pine cones open and close depending on whether they are dry or wet.

Hence the smart garments will consist of a top layer of tiny spikes of water-absorbent material, possibly wool, each only 1/200th of a millimetre wide. When the wearer of the clothing gets hot and perspires, the tiny spikes in the material will react to the moisture and automatically open up, so that air from the outside can get through the material to cool the wearer. When the wearer stops perspiring, the spikes will close down again to stop air getting in.

The lower layer of the clothing will be made of a material that is not porous so that rain can never get through from the outside, whether the spikes are open or closed.

“The new smart clothing will make wearers’ lives much more comfortable by automatically adjusting their clothing to control their body temperature. We’ve all known days when the weather alters quickly and it’s difficult to dress to match the changing temperature. Often it’s a case of being too hot or too cold, or taking a jumper on and off. The new smart clothing will make all that unnecessary,” said Professor Julian Vincent from Bath.

The design of the clothes themselves is being carried out by Veronika Kapsali, who is studying for her PhD in design at the London College of Fashion, part of the University of Arts, London. “It’s up to me to work with the new material to make something that looks pretty cool as well as innovative. I see this as a fascinating interface between design and technology,” she said.

The project itself has been chosen as one of eight to represent UK science at the Expo 2005 in Japan from March to September next year, whose theme is Nature’s Wisdom. The Expo is expected to attract 15 million visitors, and other UK science projects will be the Eden Project and the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew.

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