Women in Tech: Lina Wassong and Layla Mueller

Aug 14, 2017 | News

TWO LEADING LIGHTS IN THE WORLD OF WEARABLES REWIRING THE GENDER DIVIDE OF TECH’S MOTHERBOARD

All the way back in the 19th century Ada Lovelace (none other than Lord Byron’s daughter) foresaw the computer age with her theoretical software algorithm. A hundred years later, hadn’t it been for silver screen starlet and part-time inventor Hedy Lamarr – wifi as we know it would not exist!

Take note too that Daphne Oram’s visionary synthesisers underscore electronic music today, while Roberta Williams brought the graphical adventure game genre to life with her legendary King’s Quest series. When women in tech have so often been relegated to the sidelines of history and continue to be the target of well-documented systematic abuse – consider Gamergate and the current Google Memo scandal – now more than ever, the technological achievements of the fairer sex need to be recognised and celebrated. This post spotlights two more brilliant female designers/engineers exhibiting at our forthcoming Next Tex Showcase: Lina Wassong and Layla Mueller.

Both creators explore how wearables can provide and process unique insights from inside and outside the body. Their biometric garments leverage micro-sensors and -controllers to monitor physiology as well as the immediate environment, using this information to enhance self-expression, in turn, creating new ways to communicate and better understand each other. Through their work they envision a future where we have a more symbiotic, compassionate relationship with technology that will help optimise our health and wellbeing.

Garment engineer Lina Wassong caught the tech bug whilst studying abroad in San Francisco and has dreamt up new ways of digitizing apparel ever since. Her Monitor Dress, for instance, practically lets you wear your heart on your sleeve. Fitted with three electrodes, heartbeats are converted into digital signals that light up the dress in time to your pulse, simultaneously sending these readings via wireless transfer to a computer for real-time analysis. Such technology could prove particularly useful in hospitals, or perhaps add more spark to social activities like speed dating.

As our electronic devices get ever more sophisticated and aware of their surroundings, Lina re-assesses artificial intelligence through her interactive Parallax Dress: A 21st century take on the LBD that mimics the anatomy of an octopus with its eight SLS 3D-printed arms that each move autonomously in response to infrared (IR) signals, i.e. the presence of other people. Once bionic limbs such as these are connected to the internet of things (IoT) and other external sensors – like those already used in wearables to detect levels of toxic air pollutants – it won’t be long before your clothes are taking care of the world around you.

Eager to dispel the myth that working with electronics is hard/for boys, Lina has put her research together in a brand new Wearables book, full of DIY smart clothing projects that incorporate eTextiles, soft circuits and programming basics, so you too can reboot your wardrobe. The hot off the press publication, along with ready-made project samples, will be presented at Next Tex.

Daughter of a Broadway actress and German stage manager, sound and spectacle are ingrained in Layla Mueller’s DNA. So there’s little wonder that her Syma Line garments not only interact with, but also create music. Fusing natural fibres with sonically-reactive materials and micro-sensors, the first items from the collection light up in sync with noise impulses, illustrating how frequencies affect the physical world. Taking the concept of being at one with the music to a whole new level, this may well become a trend lighting up dancefloors and festivals in the near future.
 
Her latest pieces – on display at Next Tex – go a step further and speak, or rather sing, for themselves with the help of some human touch. Sou and Ound are two outfits that use capacitive sensors (think touchscreens) and conductive Statex silver-coated fabrics.

Together these components convert touch into a signal picked up by a micro-controller in the garment, which is then transferred to a laptop via WLAN, where musical software can control what kind of sounds are made. These pieces hit a similar note with wearable synthesisers like the Mi.mu Gloves developed by singer-songwriter/engineer Imogen Heap as a more tangible way of sculpting sound, making music in tune with the body.

It’s also worth noting that many of Lina and Layla’s creations came into existence with the help of leading fashion tech institute ElektroCouture, founded by Lisa Lang. So rest assured the future of tech is certainly bright and very much female.