Thursday, 22 October 2015

The science of fashion technology

Textiles and fashion are vibrant and innovative industry sectors and recent scientific developments allow researchers to improve the fit and sizing of garments as well as gain insights into fashion consumer behaviour.

Body scanning technology uses image capture devices to render real 3D objects as virtual 3D objects, so for instance, people as avatars. Modern body scanners such as the Size Stream typically use infra-red depth sensors, similar to those used in interactive home video games systems, which are positioned at different angles and heights to get full body coverage in a few seconds without any contact. Specialist software then coverts the sensor data into high quality 3D scans which can be used to define body measurements, population shapes and sizes, enabling analysis of individuals as well as populations. 

Body scans help to better inform fashion product development, supporting bespoke garment development as well as allowing greater insights for improving size and fit in mass produced garments. Researchers at The University of Manchester use this technology to investigate methods for creating custom garments, to develop sizing systems and to investigate human size shape and proportion.

As well as application in sizing and fit innovation, technological advances also enable us to better understand fashion consumer behaviour. Mobile eye-trackers are designed for capturing consumer data in the real world, as they are able to collect eye-movement data whilst the wearer moves freely and naturally in any situation, for example through a shopping mall or department store. The Tobii Glasses have five cameras built into a lightweight head unit, one of which faces forward and records the wearer’s view. The other four face the wearer’s eyes to capture how the pupils are moving, which enables to system to place exactly where the wearer is looking. The eye-movement data that is captured includes fixations, saccades and scan paths. A fixation happens when the eyes are stationary on one point and typically lasts between 100-600 milliseconds. A saccade is the extremely fast movement of the eyes between these fixations, while a scan path shows the order of the fixations and saccades in chronological order.  

To analyse eye-tracking data, researchers firstly determine the areas of interest (AOIs) in the wearer’s scene, then look at metrics such as the total fixation duration or the time to first fixation. The total fixation duration metric gives an indication of the AOI which the wearer found most interesting or engaging, as they gave it most of their attention. The time to first fixation metric would be useful for understanding how long it might take a shopper to notice a particular advert or offer in a store.

Not only does science allow us to track what consumers are looking at, there are also possibilities to understand their brain activity when they are shopping for fashion or being exposed to marketing communications, such as adverts. 

An EEG (electroencephalogram) is a non-invasive procedure which measures the brain’s electrical activity at different sites on the head using electrodes placed on the scalp, and is used in a medical context to diagnose epilepsy and sleep disorders. However, with the advancements of technology and demands for insight into the subconscious aspects of human behaviour such as attention, emotion and decision making, the EEG is also being used in other fields such as neuro-marketing to provide a window into the mind of the consumer. 

EEG recordings are typically measured through frequency analysis, or the presence of different brain oscillations. There are five main frequency bands (alpha, beta, theta, delta and gamma), of which two are associated with common modes of behaviour: the measurement of relaxation (alpha rhythms) and focused attention (beta rhythms). With these, it is possible to understand what part of the brain is active whilst the consumer is shopping. It can also communicate with the computer via the brain and thus has many future uses in gaming and artificial intelligence. It provides accurate results and can be combined with other technological inputs such as the eye-tracker. The Emotiv EEG headset is particularly easy to use as it only requires placement on the head, without the usual gel and careful placing of electrodes on the scalp used in a medical context.

The Pi: Interactive Textiles and Fashion Technology event on Friday 30 October provides a unique opportunity to personally experience all of these technologies and meet researchers and doctoral students from The University of Manchester’s School of Materials to find out more. Get scanned in our Sizestream 3D bodyscanner and take a print-out of your very own 3D avatar. Wear the Tobii Mobile Glasses and see how your eye movements are tracked on the laptop beside you. Try on the Emotiv EEG headset and see how you can control a game with your thoughts. 

By Patsy Perry, University of Manchester

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