Your old clothes won't donate themselves to charity – or will they?

The proposed Internet of Clothes would keep unwanted clothing from being forgotten in closets(Credit: Megan Sparks/CC 2.0)

Pretty much all of us have them – the forgotten clothes that we never wear. They really should be sent to charity, if only we could remember to do so. That's why a group at Birmingham City University has created what it calls the "Internet of Clothes." The system automatically keeps track of which clothing items we wear frequently, and makes arrangements to give the others away.

Here's how the technology works – or would work, in practise …

Each piece of a user's clothing is tagged with a small washable RFID (radio frequency identification) chip. An RFID reader in that person's closet detects those tags, every time each clothing item is put away or taken out.

A program on a Wi-Fi-linked Raspberry Pi microcomputer notes which items are rarely used, and sends alerts to the user's mobile device, reminding them of those items' existence. If those alerts are ignored, then the program contacts a local charity, which in turn automatically sends the user an envelope to mail in the clothing.

Alternately, the system could instead post unused items to eBay, allowing users to make some money in the process.

"Perhaps we can even move away from the idea of 'ownership' of clothing, to simply using them as long as we need them," says Mark Brill, a senior lecturer in Future Media, who is heading the project. "When we've worn them enough, the items will pass themselves on to their next keeper to wear."

The basic concept is reminiscent of the existing Smarter Socks system, which uses RFID tags and a reader to help users "manage" their socks.

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