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Microsoft Researchers Create Smart Scarf Prototype

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Microsoft’s smart-scarf prototype is a fashionable accessory with a lot of hidden technology.

In its current form, what looks like a regular scarf can vibrate or heat up via an app, but could eventually take cues from the wearer’s mood.

The scarf was created as part of Project SWARM (Sensing Whether Affect Requires Mediation), Microsoft’s research into wearable, affective technology that helps users monitor and modify their emotional state, and interpret the emotional states of others.

This innovation has been formed into a scarf to better reduce the stigma of accessible technologies with a fashion statement. Researchers initially conceived the idea after acknowledging the implications of personal and group emotion management for people with disabilities.

The current prototype is a laser-cut garment made with hexagonal industrial felt and coated with conductive copper taffeta modules. All modules are controlled by a single module that is also responsible for communicating with a smartphone app over Bluetooth.

The scarf is the brainchild of a Microsoft Research team. One of the team interns, Michelle Williams, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, co-authored a paper on the scarf.

“We iteratively designed, built, and tested a wearable technology, Swarm, involving target stakeholders for user-centered feedback at various stages. After discussing related work, we expound on the iterative design of our scarf from a low-fidelity prototype to a final working design, including lessons learned and novel techniques developed regarding the fabric, hardware and software design, as well as user perspectives on wearing a device that reacts to emotions,” the paper said.

The overall imagined scenario around the scarf’s use is someone wearing biosensors, such as heart rate monitors, that send readings via Bluetooth to the scarf.

Once the prototype was finished, participants in the study found the garment mostly useful in the way it reacts to emotions, but slightly less useful for the way it displays and reacts to the emotions of a group. Participants also found the scarf lightweight, often forgetting that they had it on.

“We propose systems for reflecting on and increasing awareness of one’s own and others’ emotional state as a future area of accessibility research that might be also useful for everyone as we move towards a smarter, sensor-filled world that knows how people are feeling and can help people address this context,” Williams said.

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