Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Kiwis send hi-tech wear down the NY catwalk

Hand-operated sensors let models light up Chromat's electro-luminescent dresses at New York Fashion Week. Photo / Supplied
Hand-operated sensors let models light up Chromat's electro-luminescent dresses at New York Fashion Week. Photo / Supplied

Kiwi-built wearable technology has made another colourful splash on the world stage - this time on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week.

A showing by fashion line Chromat wowed spectators with high-tech garments that could be lit up using sensors fitted to the models' hands.

As they strutted down the runway yesterday, the models needed to only gently squeeze the sensors to send a wireless signal to change the glow of electro-luminescent strips featured on the garments. The spectacle sparked a flurry of tweets - and heavy interest from media covering the event.

Behind the flashy display was the latest clever innovation by Auckland University spin-out company StretchSense, which had only just unveiled its motion-capturing "smart gloves" at global consumer electronics convention CES 2016 in Las Vegas last month.

The company's applications all revolve around its soft-sensor technology, which might be described as rubber bands with Bluetooth and can be built into clothing.

It has so far developed a range of wearable applications that enable users to record real-time information about themselves during such activities as running, jumping or playing video games.

Chromat designer Becca McCharen approached StretchSense to create a design that allowed controllable luminescence in her architecture-inspired AW16 line. StretchSense developers quickly managed to turn the dramatic concept into a working product.

"Basically what happens is the model simply moves her hands to express herself and change the mood, tone and lighting of the dress," StretchSense chief executive Ben O'Brien explained.

Mr O'Brien said McCharen saw in his technology a way to achieve the specific look she was seeking.

Manhattan-based Chromat, known for its innovative pieces inspired by architecture and urban design, has already created a dress that physically responds to the wearer's adrenalin levels and a bra with built-in vents.

How they work

• The garments draw on soft-sensor technology developed by Kiwi company StretchSense, which has been described as like rubber bands with Bluetooth.

• Wireless sensors attached to the models' hands with wrist-bands allow the models to change, with just a small squeeze, the tone and brightness of electro-luminescent strips fitted to their garments.

• StretchSense chief executive Ben O'Brien says he expects to see more products that combine fashion and wearable technology.

- NZ Herald

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