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A Smart, Mood-Sensing Jacket Made of Kombucha, Because That's What Bikers Need

It's called Maximum Fungi.
June 9, 2014, 7:06pm
Image: ScobyTec

Take this with a grain of salt, but biocouture has typically been geared toward women. Take Suzanne Lee's bacterial cellulose clothing for example, which dresses women in tea skin, or the fermented fashion of Donna Franklin and Gary Cass, which creates evening dresses from red wine. Nothing's really stuck for men. Enter the 'Maximum Fungi,' a wireless- connected biker jacket made from kombucha leather that senses and expresses the mood of the driver.

Image: ScobyTec

The prototype combines two emerging trends: wearable computing and sustainable fashion. It's created by ScobyTec, a German startup that creates sustainable, symbiotic wearable tech and smart gadgets. The acronym stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast, and indeed their mood-sensing biker jacket is made from fungi.

The idea started as a student project at the Burg Giebichenstein University Halle, using the school's proprietary Mood Markup Language (MML) protocol. It's a collaboration by motorcycle enthusiast Karl-Ludwig Kunze, artist Carolin Wendel, and university professor Bernhard Schipper.


When you brew kombucha with sugar, a culture medium and black tea, a thick layer of cellulose forms. If you treat that cellulose with leather oil and iron it, a water-resistant, durable leather-like material forms. “It feels like animal skin,” said Wendel. Who knew?

Image: ScobyTec

Thanks to nanotechology, it's possible to make biological materials like kombucha "leather" programmable. The nontoxic, fungi biker jacket is loaded with 150 optical fiber cables, controlled by a microprocessor and illuminated with 10 RGB LEDs that mirror the muscle strands in the driver's back.

Image: ScobyTec

The electronics built into the vest are designed to visualize the driver’s mood in real-time. So instead of wearing your heart on your sleeve, you wear your feelings on your back, through an LED light show. It displays whether the wearer is chilled or peeved while cruising the asphalt. So theoretically, tailgater would be able to tell if they're inspiring road rage. Or something.

The jacket is powered either with batteries or directly by the motorcycle, and the customizable light patterns are programmed via smartphone. “It’s based on a growing database of hundreds of moods,” explained Schipper, including love, anger, sadness, optimism, energy and so on.

“The combination of motorcycle culture, functional clothing, bacterial cellulose and internet-connected microelectronics— which may seem unusual at first glance—turned out to be very functional and plausible in practical tests,” said Wendel. The team tested the prototype vest with successful results.

Image: ScobyTec

The vest's wirelessly connected sensors can be programmed to receive data from the internet that could effect the driver's mood. If synched with a weather app, for example, the vest can signal “let's go” when conditions are good for biking, by causing a lamp in the biker's home to start blinking.

While on the road, the team imagines a variety of funcitons. Traffic updates from the web may signal frustration, so if the vest was connected to a music app, it might play a soothing song to calm the driver down. “The moods can be sent to other devices, like an iPod which chooses music fitting to the driver’s mood,” said Schipper.

Whether a biker dude would actually use this thing is dubious, but as a proof of concept the Maximum Fungi is pretty fascinating. “The possibility to have a piece of clothing communicate through a wireless internet connection is a groundbreaking step forward in the development of functional safety clothing,” said Wendel, an artist who previously made duct tape space suit.

“This kind of uniform is far more than just a club membership status symbol,” she said. “It accompanies a biker’s whole life as a logbook.