For both Castellanos and Valverde, who began working together in 2009 under the name uh513, the project was sparked by an interest in the human body, particularly how human capabilities can be enhanced with technology. While Castellanos had presented a thesis on “bionic skin” during her doctorate at the University of Vigo, Spain, exploring hybridizations of wearables and cybernetics, Valverde had been studying wearables as part of his artistic practice. Through this independent work, the two came together under the realization that makers of wearable technology were ignoring the environment.
“In our daily surroundings there are a lot of factors that can affect our mood and our relationships with others,” says Castellanos. “So, we decided to create a dress—a smart dress that is able to measure environmental data and how it impacts us,” she adds. In addition to detecting environmental threats, the app also captures and stores a user’s geolocation and prompts them to record their mood, ultimately revealing the impact of their surroundings on their state of mind and allowing the user to create an “emotional map” of their city.
According to Castellanos, the dress could help users and the wider population determine which parts of their cities are safest to tread by compiling useful data about the surrounding environment. Given that the app consistently records data while in use, when walking around a city a user can study their route to see just how much dust, carbon monoxide, and UV radiation they are subject to. But while the dress can offer real-time environmental analysis and alerts for its users, the artists are more interested in the data analysis after its use, allowing users to visualize it on their website. In this way, users may carefully review all of the data collected to extract larger conclusions and plan their days accordingly. On whether the dress could in fact help one live longer, Castellanos is conservative. “But,” she says, “it could alert you to something that your natural sensors would not detect.”