As technology becomes more integrated into our lives, it's reaching a point where the only fodder left for electronic enhancement will be the clothes on our backs. For design group Machina, that notion represents a world of possibilities for how we interact with each other and even create art. The team of anonymous designers recently developed the MJ v01 MIDI Controller jacket, which conceals a variety of sensors that sync to iOS and Android devices to produce electronic music through the wearer's movements.
This certainly isn't the first wearable MIDI controller in existence, but it is one of the first that completely hides the electronic components from view. Machina has been working for almost a year to perfect what it calls a "wearable machine," but recently settled on a jacket design that's nearly ready for consumers.
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At a glance, Machina's jacket looks like a regular piece of clothing, but the fabric hides a series of sensors and other controls. In total, the current design contains three flexible touch sensors on a front pocket, an accelerometer in one sleeve, and a small joystick with four buttons on the other sleeve. When connected wirelessly to a computer or iOS/Android device, these sensors transform the wearer's movements into beats and other audio. Moving an arm at different speeds triggers beats at different tempos, while sliding a few fingers on the touch sensors adds notes like a small synthesizer, for example. The jacket also conceals a power supply, which can be charged through a USB connection.
Machina created a VST plugin for use with Ableton Live music software on a computer, but is also developing an app for iOS and Android with a simpler interface that's tailored specifically to the jacket's sensors. The design team expects the finished app will allow users to record their own audio directly from a tablet/smartphone, specify which sounds are triggered by the sensors, and even define the amount of pressure or movement needed to activate them. As a final touch, each jacket is packaged in a box along with components to convert it into a working speaker.
If composing music isn't your thing though, the sensors can be reprogrammed for other tasks just as well. Machina is treating the jacket as its own platform and is even opening an online "hackstore" for users to share their own custom programs. The code for the jacket's components will be freely available, so users could program it to control an iPod, interact with a Kinect, or perform any other task they can devise.
Aside from housing all the components for a one-man electronic band, the jacket itself has been designed for comfort and style. Machina attempted to recreate the general form of an LED light when making the MJ v01 – giving it a distinctive bulb-like hood, for instance. Because of the complex electronics within the fabric, each individual jacket is handmade from industrial-grade waterproof materials and the final version is expected to be dry clean-only. The jacket's pattern also conceals air holes for ventilation, and the sleeves are curved to fit a person's natural shape.
The MJ v01 MIDI Controller Jacket is just the first of what Machina hopes are many electronically-enhanced articles of clothing. Right now, the group is running a Kickstarter campaign to finalize testing for the electronic components and begin bulk distribution. Anyone who contributes at least US$400 will receive a jacket of their own, along with an instruction manual, four heat-reactive t-shirts ... and an inexplicable poster of Barack Obama riding a mechanical T-Rex.
Bear in mind though that this may not be the final version of the jacket. Machina has stated that it is considering adding a second accelerometer, one or more gyroscopes, or even replacing the buttons on the left sleeve entirely – the look of the jacket may also change before development is complete. Machina plans to begin shipping out jackets to contributors in November of 2013.
Check out the video below to see some examples of the type of music the MIDI Controller Jacket can create.