True innovators are a little nuts. So when Davide Vigano starts talking about the need to reinvent the fashion industry via technology, anyone who has seen a person wearing Google Glass or the ubiquitous plastic wrist bands that track fitness goals might be forgiven for rolling their eyes: Both are decidely unfashionable outside the geek community.
Yet Vigano, who is the CEO of Heapsylon, a startup based out of Redmond, Wash. and wears Armani shirts (casual Armani, but still Armani), thinks he has a solution to wearable computing that people will find, well … wearable.
At first glance Heapslylon makes a pair of smart socks that mimic many of the data gathering functions of any other fitness tracker on the market. Except that they are socks. And it’s tough to imagine one wearing the same pair of sensor-packed socks each day or even wearing socks every day. How is this a good idea? How is this the future of fashion and technology?
But just as the Kindle Fire is merely a vehicle for Amazon’s real ambitions, as opposed to the sum of them, Heapsylon isn’t really in the sock business. The socks are made of a special material that the company developed — it is reportedly comfortable, washable and packed with sensors. And that material is the crux of what Heapslyson has developed. The socks are both an effort to put the new material through its paces with the hardest-working piece of clothing in a person’s wardrobe, as well as an application to showcase what the material can do.
Heapsylon was started in October 2010 by three former Microsoft employees: Davide Vigano, Mario Esposito, who is the CTO at Heapsylon, and Maurizio Macagno, the VP of development at the company. Both Macagno and Esposito worked on the Kinect, but all three left Microsoft to pursue this vision of combining technology and fashion in a way that could advance both industries.
“The outfit is the computer,” said Vigano of their vision. But after they quit, and started playing around with tiny sensors and conductive fabrics they realized that there was a gap between what they wanted and what technology could provide. So they set about researching materials. The result of that is the fabric that they have since turned into socks.
“Quite frankly we thought it would easier,” said Vigano. “The materials research has been challenging to say the least.”
The sock and they accompanying hardware that tracks the data from the sock’s sensors are called the Sensoria Fitness smart socks. There will be two or maybe three pressure sensors in the sock that will share exact data on how many steps a person takes, their stride, whether they tend to turn in or out when they run, and maybe even weight change. The socks come with an ankle bracelet that gathers the data from the sock and transmits it (see above.) It will eventually be possible to use the socks as a scale to track your weight once Heaspylon gets the algorithms down.
Vigano said the company plans to launch the package of the socks and the hardware via a crowd-funding platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo within the next month or two. While at first it will be targeted at the hard-core running market, the socks might find a home in other sports such as golf, where tracking the weight on the ball or heel of the foot can help improve performance. The price for the package is yet to be determined. And he declined to share the cost of the sensor-rich fabric.
But perhaps most important for the future of Heapsylon, and the future of fashion-forward wearables, is that Vigano aims to license the fabric technology and the data it gathers from its socks for other uses. For example, the material could be used in football helmets to measure the incidence of concussions, or the exact footfall data from the sock might supplant the general data provided by a pedometer for a person’s run. And other companies might use the socks to develop data profiles around other sports, like the golf example above.
There’s also no reason to stick only with pressure sensors. Other sensors could be embedded into the Heapsylon fabric, although the company hasn’t focused on that as a small startup with a relatively small and undisclosed amount of angel funding. Vigano hopes to seek a formal venture round after the crowd-funding campaign proves (or disproves) the market opportunity.
For now, the five-person startup is heading toward a production version of the Sensoria Sock hoping that it will be the launch of a revolution in wearable computing that goes far beyond the smart watches and accessories available today. If Heapsylon’s vision of making technology disappear into fabric gains ground, then perhaps Vigano’s future Armani shirts might not just look good, but they could do good by sharing relevant data that monitors his health or his whereabouts for loved ones.
Of course, such data could also be used for less-then-noble causes, or the market may never buy into the idea of smart socks. But as someone who looks at the intersection between technology and fashion, I welcome anyone who wants to develop a product that emphasizes the form, the function and the feel of the wearable tech as opposed to just the tech.
Not everyone wants to look like they just got off the Caltrain at Mountain View.