When it comes to cycling apparel, it's right that style plays second fiddle to safety. But if high visibility can be achieved without making the ultimate sartorial sacrifice, so much the better. With its Sporty Supaheroe cycling jacket, the Utope Project aims to achieve just that - integrating 64 RGB LEDs into its stretchable, wearable circuit boards. And the inclusion of in-built sensors means the LED array can display a variety of patterns depending on circumstance.
Together, an integrated "acceleration sensor" and gyroscope track the cyclist's movement, conveying information for all to see on the jacket itself. Conceivably, this means that the jacket's rear panels could glow red under braking, or flash on one side if the cyclist moves sideways. A particularly nice touch is a smartphone call alert system, which we gather employs a simple light sensor in the jacket's inner pocket wired to the jackets outer LEDs. When an incoming call is received your smartphone screen lights up, triggering the sensor and LEDs. That said, anything that makes a telephone harder to ignore when cycling should be used with caution.
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The jacket is made of organic cotton with additional water-resistant layers that we gather do not sacrifice the jacket's breathability. It comes in a rather fetching creamy-beige sort of hue, with white webbing over the LED circuits on the upper arms and torso.
It isn't absolutely clear how the LEDs are driven, but presumably the jacket integrates a battery pack. From the prototype video we've seen, it would appear the jacket incorporates different modes of display. One mode, with white light on the jacket's front panels and red light to the red, is clearly envisaged for road cycling, while in another mode the jacket twinkles like a Christmas tree (raising a few practical safety questions, possibly).
What we haven't seen is precisely how the jacket responds to sensor inputs, and thus just how dynamic the resulting effects are. I'm no safety expert, but one wonders if there's a line between being seen and becoming a distraction. Still, it's a compelling concept in an attractive design. It'll be fascinating to see the finished article - and more importantly, how it behaves.
The Utope Project itself is a collaboration between designer Wolfgang Langeder and the stretchable circuits division of Fraunhofer IZM. The Sporty Supaheroe jacket is part of a menswear collection that the Utope Project is launching this year, though we have not yet received word of exact launch dates and pricing.
Source: the Utope ProjectView gallery - 22 images