Science Fiction fans must be very excited at present as the real world merges with fictional scenes from Star Trek or Deep Space Nine or any other Sci-Fi series you care to insert. Some claim that the advent of the mobile phone was largely due to the ‘communicators’ in Star Trek; a work of fiction at the time but, they claim, an inspiration to innovators everywhere. Many other technologies have made it from fiction to reality but recently some of the most remarkable steps have been taken in clothing, essentially computers you wear. Thankfully they have not been incorporated solely into silver jumpsuits but common underwear and outerwear.

The researchers claim that intelligent clothing is the way of the future. Sports people and the military have long been aware of clever fabrics. Clothing that reacts to temperatures, working almost like a flask, in that it can keep you warm at certain times while also allowing for a cooling effect at others. Bullet proof vests have emerged from their armour like status to being much lighter and more wearable. There was even a trend in the nineties for T-Shirts that changed colour depending on body temperature. Now the boffins have taken it one step further and integrated computer chips.

Heart monitoring was one of the first frontiers conquered. Intelligent vests that have a built in heart rate monitor for men have been available for some time but the same electronic sensing technology has now been integrated into a bra. It offers a new level of comfort to women wishing to monitor their heart rate while they exercise. There I was thinking that a watch like gadget that counts your steps, monitors heart rate and counts calories at the same time was at the cutting edge. Obviously I was behind the times. Not only does the bra contain all this clever technology it is also constructed using a “quick drying nylon and lycra for superior performance”. I haven’t tried it but reports from a consumer test gave it the thumbs up as being very comfortable, like a second skin, and very convenient. Of course for people like me that just dabble occasionally in the keep fit game the investment may not be worth it, but for women serious about keeping fit it is quite accessible at around €90.

Another recently developed bra keeps an eye on its wearer’s breasts. Now this is quite the innovation with the increase in breast cancer. The bra is being developed by a team of engineers at a UK university. The smart bra uses in built gubbins that constantly scan the breasts for early signs of potentially dangerous lumps. Pictures of suspect lumps can be generated by microchips embedded in the straps and then uploaded for examination onto a computer. According to the development team it is low risk, non invasive and cost effective.

Other new smart garments that have appeared include Music T-Shirts. They allow the wearer to listen to their favourite music stored on a chip, or tune into their favourite radio station. Forget carrying an MP3 player; just plug your earphones into your t-shirt. Of course this may also herald a return to muggers and thieves literally taking the shirt off your back! Some of these music t-shirts also incorporate a panel on the back where you can play moving images. Why you would want to do that is beyond me but it would certainly entertain those standing behind you. While going to work in a t-shirt might not be acceptable in every office, suits have also been targeted. The businessman garments have a microphone in the collar and have a display and a personal digital assistant on the sleeve. No need for typing or holding a hand held voice recorder, just dictate the letter or memo into your collar and away you go. There is also a new solar energy recharge jacket that includes tools for creative play such as a camera, a display and a microphone while the ‘Massage Kimono’ gives a soothing massage to the wearer that can be regulated depending on the level of relaxation desired by the user. Obviously this is a Japanese innovation but I’m toying with the idea of it all the same. I may look slightly odd in a kimono but it sounds very pleasant indeed. In fact you might be so relaxed wearing it that you wouldn’t particularly care what people are thinking.

This is just the beginning. With the technology industry constantly producing increasingly smaller components that enable intelligent functions, the possibilities are endless. How about anti affair clothes; items that recognise they are being removed in the wrong home or at the wrong time of day or what about tracking devices for wayward spouses. I’m sure we can all come up with our own variations.

However, in all the material I read about such wonders and mini built in chips I didn’t come across anything about how to clean or wash these items. I’m sure they have thought of it and the instructions are on the garments, but it certainly got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be amazing if they could just invent self cleaning and self ironing clothes? Now that would be an innovation; truly intelligent clothes. As I look mournfully at the full washing and ironing basket in the kitchen I can but dream of a knight in a shining white lab coat finding the solution.