As a student at MIT perpetually whipsawing between the bone-chilling, soul-crushing cold of the Cambridge winter and his centrally heated dorm, Kranthi Vistakula alit on an idea: clothing whose climate you control.
Thus was born ClimaWare, a line of jackets, shoes, helmets, and other gear that transforms on demand into personal heaters or A/Cs. At the press of a button, the apparel can get as cool as 64 degrees F and as hot as 104 degrees F for up to eight hours on a single set of batteries. And it'll work in all kinds of ungodly weather -- Dubai in July, Alaska in January. Though you wouldn't want to try it out in Antarctica, where the mercury regularly drops below -40. (ClimaWare is only effective when the outdoor temp falls between -22 degrees F and 122 degrees F.)
The technology at play here is an adaptation of the Peltier Effect, which occurs when electricity is run through two different metals connected to each other: One metal will become cool, while the other metal will become hot. Vistakula's nano-based technology uses that effect inside those puck-like inserts on the vest above. Thermoelectric materials that touch the skin either heat or cool your body; it's your choice. The pucks are placed at points where sweating is low, but blood vessels are very dense -- in other words, the most efficient places for regulating body temperature.
[Thermal imaging shows skin temperature after wearing the ClimaWare jacket for 5 minutes; cooling above, heating below]
The Indian edition of MIT's Technology Review named Vistakula a 2010 "Innovator of the Year". For a diagram of the tech, see here.
ClimaWare isn't the first climate-controlled apparel on the market. But Vistakula says what sets his India-based company Dhama Apparel Innovations apart is that his products are extremely lightweight, which makes them ideal for athletes, soldiers, and pretty much anyone who doesn't want to look like this come winter. The jacket weighs about as much as a pair of jeans.
The technology also has vast potential in other industries, including health care and the military. According to Technology Review, quoting Harshal Shah, whose company has invested in Dhama Apparel, Dhama's product team is working with the Army to develop a heating and cooling mechanism for missiles.
[Images courtesy of Dhama Apparel Innovations]