Models Strut in Ready-to-Wear Tech: Too Bad It's Mostly Prototypes

Article excerpt

NEW YORK (AP) -- With technopop thumping and spotlights turning her silver bikini iridescent pink, the model strutted down the catwalk, turned toward clicking cameras and flashed a faint, but knowing smile.

It was the look of a woman who had just checked her e-mail.

The scene, staged at the Internet World trade show last week, belongs to one company's vision of a day when technology will be woven seamlessly into the latest must-have fashions, right into the fabric of our everyday lives.

The company, Charmed Technology, is on one end of a budding industry specializing in "wearable technology," gadgets designed to be worn as readily as a necktie or a wristwatch to supply instant, easy, anywhere access to computers and to each other.

"The brave new unwired world," a Charmed emcee calls it during the company's show. "High tech meets high fashion. A coming world where 6 billion people are online all the time."

That world may be a while in coming.

For one, technology hasn't yet advanced to the point where it's ready to meet high fashion. For another, even those in the industry acknowledge that most consumers are not ready to wear such gear.

Charmed's models do make for a hard-to-ignore spectacle, however, even in an exhibition hall where scores of companies are clamoring for attention. The catwalking also offers a provocative look at where technology could be heading.

In Charmed's vision, someday we'll all be wearing devices like the Eyesite, a low-profile monocle that will function as a computer screen visible only to the wearer for discreet web-surfing wherever they go.

Another runway model showed off the AlphaConductor, an eerily green set of cables fixed onto one hand that will replace a computer mouse and desktop by letting the user click away into midair.

Still other fashionistas showed off wrist-mounted computers, including one done in faux leopard fur; shirts and sneakers that will read an athletes' vital signs or adjust to the demands of specific sports; and a sleek silver pendant that could receive voice messages and store reminders of coming appointments.

Most Charmed products are just prototypes and some seemed a little outlandish.

Products like the PheroMate -- a wearable device that emits pheromones to help people "mate by smell" -- drew snickers from the audience.

Charmed is only just starting to sell some small items, like a badge containing a tiny microprocessor that allows people at meetings to trade personal data electronically rather than collect business cards.

"I don't think all the information we need can come from a cell phone or from a computer. We need a whole variety of things," said Alex Lightman, co-founder of Charmed, which was spawned at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab.

"One of the things that has been holding the computer industry back...is that people don't have enough fashion, color, style and design."

Charmed isn't the only company thinking along these lines. …