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WIRE:12/29/1999 10:17:00 ET
FEATURE-In new millennium, clothes will talk, clean themselves
Imagine removing the jacket and absent-mindedly swiping a sleeve over a sensor to pay for your groceries. If someone grabs the jacket -- containing your DNA code and your entire banking history -- and runs out of the store, it is programmed to start shouting "Thief, Thief."
What worries you is not that someone has just stolen your DNA code -- that, after all, can be recovered -- but the thief has taken a jacket that can also perform automatic acupressure and time release Prozac skin infusions into your body, so you are in danger of losing your cool at any minute.
As technology grows ever more sophisticated in the new millennium, the term "power suit" will take on a new, more literal meaning. Much of the fabric from which clothes are cut will contain microscopic computers, fiber optics and wires woven into the threads, making them interactive with daily routines and body chemistry, fashion and textile experts said.
Garments of the future will clean and mend themselves, grow
or shrink to fit a variety of shapes and sizes, change colors
and temperatures, translate foreign languages, pay our bills
instantaneously and read e-mail aloud.
NEW FABRICS THROUGH NANOTECHNOLOGY
If that were not enough, so-called molecular nanotechnology will create new fabrics actually containing tiny computers built to atomic specifications, said David Forrest, a materials engineer with Baverstam Associates.
Such technology, which Forrest said may be available in as little as 20 years, would enable fabrics to mend and clean themselves constantly by moving dirt to the edge, the way cilia behave in the lungs when moving mucus away from the nose and throat. It will also give birth to lightweight mutant fabrics that will change shape to fit their wearers and transmit data effortlessly.
"You could have little sensors in this thing to detect a rip that would then send little microscopic repair machines over to that part of the garment," Forrest said. "It would be like putting on a new piece of clothing every 15 minutes. It would make recycling obsolete."
Garments would likely change colors easily, he said. "If you could just change a molecular arrangement so that it alters the way various wavelengths reflect off it, you could change the color. You could do that at a very fine grain level."
Nanotechnology will also enable humans to more easily regenerate their skin to a more youthful form, Forrest said. In the process, plastic surgeons as we know them today may become obsolete -- unless, of course, they perfect what they are working on now: weekend face lifts to repair loose muscle tissue, remove fat pockets and tighten skin without surgery.
Maplewood, New Jersey, plastic surgeon Michael Valdes uses sound waves to liquefy body and facial fat, then removes it with liposuction. A head and neck wrap is then worn for two weeks at night to mold and tighten the new facial contours.
"The skin actually tightens back up," said Valdes, who successfully performed the procedure on his wife and is attracting hundreds of curious patients. Such a technique works best on sagging jowl lines and double chins, he said, and has not yet been perfected for eyes or deep smile lines.