Katherine Petrecca, General Manager, Studio Innovation, New Balance
Chris Wawrousek, Senior Designer, Studio Innovation, New Balance
Hiroshi Ishii, Head, Tangible Media group, MIT Media Lab
Lining Yao, PhD candidate, MIT Media Lab
bioLogic is growing living actuators and synthesizing responsive bio-skin in an era where bio is the new interface. “Second Skin” is a result of that process—it is “living” clothing that adjusts to the wearer’s body heat and perspiration.
Nature has engineered its own actuators (which convert energy into action) as well as the efficient material composition, geometry, and structure to utilize its actuators and achieve functional transformation. The bioLogic project’s goal is to tap into that natural behavior to power objects and interfaces, such as “Second Skin.”
The bioLogic research paper was released in April 2015, and Second Skin was made public in October 2015.
MIT Media Lab (Cambridge, MA); New Balance (Brighton, MA)
In keeping with the Tangible Media group’s vision, we wanted to program living organisms and invent responsive and transformable interfaces of the future. Our work has its roots in an ancient bacterium, called Bacillus subtilis natto, which is commonly used in Japanese cuisine. The bacterium’s natto cells expand and contract relative to atmospheric moisture. Enchanted by this phenomenon, a quest into the redefinition of actuation is the ambition of our team. We created “Second Skin” – in which the bacterium’s movements are used to open the fabric’s vents – to showcase the technology of bioLogic.
Based on the natural phenomenon of hygromorphic transformation, we introduced a specific type of living cells as nanoactuators, which react to body temperature and humidity change. The living nanoactuator can be controlled by electrical signals and can communicate with the virtual world as well. We used a digital printing system and design simulation software to assist the design of the fabric’s transformation structure.
bioLogic seeks a harmonious perspective, where biological and engineering approaches flow in sync. These animate cells are harvested in a bio lab, assembled by a micron-resolution bio-printing system, and transformed into responsive fashion, we call a “Second Skin”. We can now observe the self-transforming biological skin activated by living bacteria. The synthetic bio-skin reacts to body heat and sweat, causing flaps around heat zones to open, enabling sweat to evaporate and cool down the body through an organic material flux. In a collaboration between the Media Lab and New Balance, bioLogic is bringing what once may have lived in the realm of fantasy into the world of sportswear.
The Media Lab’s Tangible Media group is leading the project in collaboration with New Balance, the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering, and the Royal College of Art. Our team members come from diverse backgrounds including design, art, science, and engineering.
Katherine Petrecca, General Manager for Studio Innovation, New Balance:
“It was easy for us as she [Lining Yao] described this technology to really envision a future state where a runner could put on this bioLogic-enabled garment, head out on their run for an hour or so and maintain an optimal temperature and humidity level throughout that entire run. That’s a really interesting future state benefit for us and our consumers.
From the first time we sat down with them, it was very clear there was a great technology value here for our company, a really relevant use case. But it was actually much less than, sort of, those tangible technology benefits and more so in all of the things that we really unearthed along the way: new insights, new collaborations and connections–not just with the MIT folks but really within our own company. It forced us to meet and work with new people, it forced us to use new tools, create new tools, even using old tools in new and interesting ways.”
Hiroshi Ishii, head of the Tangible Media research group at the MIT Media Lab:
“Collaboration is the real key of the engine to make medium work. Collaboration requires, not the homogeneity, agreement of everything, but some disagreement and constructive discussion, criticisms, and mutual respect is the real engine. I think the difference is really critical, but also dialogues—developing something new together.
Actually, the collaboration with New Balance didn’t start from bioLogic, but before. We started with shoes, which change in stiffness. But the best thing is not just experience, skill set, or environment. The culture of innovation through design and fabrication is something very, very important. Also, practicalities–we in academia often end up by just making a proof-of-the-concept demo, writing a paper, filing the patent, then over. But we seldom go to the real direction of the product. But we are very encouraged by all this science of the physiology, all the needs of the runners that we learned from them [New Balance] so that we really started exploring this prototype. We seldom reach these levels of … hype.”