It’s bad enough when your shorts work their way up into a place they shouldn’t be. Can you imagine underwear that can think up new places to wedge itself into … on its own? That could be just one of the side effects of a new kind of undergarment that responds to a wearer’s sweat by opening tiny vents to allow it to evaporate. What’s next … shorts that grow automatically after Thanksgiving dinner?
This synthetic “second skin” is called BioLogic and was created by MIT Media Lab's Tangible Media Group, a team of MIT graduate students led by Professor Hiroshi Ishii to “seamlessly couple the dual world of bits and atoms by giving dynamic physical form to digital information and computation.” The “atoms” in this case are the Bacillus Subtilis natto bacteria.
This story actually begins a thousand years ago in Japan when a famous samurai warrior named Minamoto no Yoshiie discovered that wet soybeans left in a bag made from dried rice stalks fermented and tasted pretty good. The dish became known as “natto” and the bacteria in the stalks which caused the fermentation was eventually named Bacillus Subtilis natto.
Fast-forward to the present, where MIT grad student Lining Yao discovered that the natto bacteria grew and contracted based on how much moisture it was exposed to. Other than beer, the moisture college students are most exposed to is sweat, so Yao decided to see if the bacteria could be used to create a material user interface (MUI).
We are imagining a world where actuators and sensors can be grown rather than manufactured, being derived from nature as opposed to engineered in factories.
To do this Yao grew the bacteria by the billions in a bioreactor, then put them in a micron-resolution 3D printer, created a material out of them and made it into clothing. They found that the bacteria moved the most in areas where the wearer sweat the most (you can figure those locations out for yourself) so they put movable flaps in those sweat spots that they then opened and closed to vent the material and help better evaporate the sweat. Shape-shifting stuff to stop sweat – sounds like the first ad campaign.
So BioLogic is exercise clothing that stays dry by using living bacteria woven into it. Sounds practical and marketable, but wouldn’t a head-to-toe body suit be more … fun?
The team points out other uses for the material, such as lampshades controlled by the heat of a light bulb and teabags that send some kind of signal when the tea is ready.
A signal from the bacteria that the tea is done? How about a samurai warrior yell?