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From Strange to Surreal, Smart Clothing Takes a Step Forward

Piloting a drone with a joystick is so yesterday—and so is designing clothing just any old way.

Brands and researchers are finding creative ways to bring tech and apparel together, veering from the weird to the wonderful.

Swiss researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne (EPFL) came up with a tech-infused jacket that lets drone pilots go hands-free in the cockpit, steering instead with the movement of their torso—though a second person is needed to control the aircraft’s speed. According to an ABC News report, they incorporated motion sensors into a jacket to which metal bars are attached in case pilots want to rest their arms. (They typically like to stretch their arms out to simulate the motion of flying.)

To get a sense for how accurately the jacket-based flight simulation works, the research team has been testing the innovation using virtual reality in a lab environment, with studies indicating that the torso system is more precise than manipulating a joystick and even easier to learn. They’ve also built a prototype of a glove that handles more nuanced capabilities to takeoff and landing, EPFL’s robotics expert Matteo Macchini told ABC.

Meanwhile, Tommy Hilfiger dreamed up a way to fuse wearable tech and loyalty, launching the Xplore line of jeans and other streetwear basics like sweatshirts and tees that “reward” customers for wearing each item. The collection of 29 products for men and 23 for women incorporates smart Awear Bluetooth tags, paired with the brand’s iOS app, that gather data on how frequently the garment is worn.

Moreover, Tommy Hilfiger envisions wearers competing in challenges to earn points for things like navigating in the physical world to where brand-styled hearts appear on a digital map (reminiscent of Foursquare?). A sufficient stash of points can be redeemed for a range of perks and exclusives, from autographed merchandise to archive pieces.

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Privacy concerns abound, though Engadget reported that users have to opt in when first pairing the app and garment, and can turn off the clothing’s Bluetooth functionality at any time. It’s a curious attempt at building a so-called “micro-community of brand ambassadors.”

Even design inspiration is taking a cue from tech and data. San Francisco’s online made-to-measure men’s wear startup Eison Triple Thread peddles “honest luxury” in delivering custom suits, jackets, shirting and more to style-savvy customers. It’s latest stunt, though, is bringing artificial intelligence and musical inspiration into the process of helping men find the right fashion for them—or maybe break out of a style rut and try new things.

Through its FITS app, customers are walked through a quiz that susses out their lifestyle—from where they work to how they spend their leisure time—while in the background a Spotify API collects information such as the user’s favorite musical genres and when they typically turn on the streaming service. Next the app takes all of that data and matches users with images from a curated database of 3,000 images collected from around the web by founder and CEO Julian Eison and product director Dario Smith. Users can pick their favorite style from the many options and then attend to all of the pertinent details: how many jacket buttons and what color, size of button hole, what sort of interior lining works best and anything necessary to create a coordinating pant.

Tapping into Spotify data to find a suit seems a bit gimmicky but maybe it’s the kind of engagement some millennials need to liven up the relatively staid process of choosing a suit. And maybe they’ll feel more of a connection to their custom garment, knowing it was inspired at least in part by their love of Zeppelin, The Weekend and Ed Sheeran.