Some forecast cars that can fly and self-healing cells that will keep humans alive forever. But in any vision of the future, it’s hard to imagine blankets going anywhere. They not only keep us warm on a cold night; they offer us a feeling of security through our most primal of senses. We’ll keep blankets around because blankets feel good.
But could we reimagine the blanket—not just to be warmer or softer, but to be an all-around more capable blanket?
Studio NMinusOne, in collaboration with Rodolphe el-Khoury, has created what may be the first blanket that can feel your touch. It’s called the IM Blanky, and as uncomfortable as this is going to sound, it’s essentially a large, flexible circuit board, fitted with 104 tilt sensors and clusters of filigree-like sensors. An onboard Arduino processes all these datapoints to create a real-time 3-D map of the blanket’s surface, and map is then shared to the Internet. Yes, the IM Blanky has its own IP address.
"Our aim was to investigate the intersection of soft textiles with computation and communication," co-creator Carol Moukheiber tells Co.Design. "We imagined it as a soft Swiss Army Knife. A 21st-century security blanket that had a myriad of different functionalities."
The IM Blanky could do all sorts of things when networked with external apps. Imagine a cover that measured your tossing and turning at night, or critiqued your posture or provided your vitals information to a caregiver. Or maybe a bit more wildly, imagine a blanket that, when you hugged it, hugged you back…or a blanket that would tell your spouse if you’ve been faithful.
There are really no limitations on what we can do with the platform, because the brilliance of networking the blanket is that we already accept this gadget into our lives with (literal) open arms. So it opens the door to collect endless hours of personal feedback in an unobtrusive way. In other words, you’ll never have to sell the public on a blanket.
But while NMinusOne knew that a networked blanket had potential, what they hadn’t anticipated was that a generation one prototype could look so, for lack of a better term, blankety.
"What we found most interesting as we were working out the circuits was that the very logic of electric flows, when followed towards efficient patterns of current/energy flows and connections, yielded a highly decorative pattern of stems, flowers, and petals that we were of course exploiting," Moukheiber explains. It’s the same design philosophy behind the classic patchwork quilt, if you think about it. The aesthetic itself stems from the necessities of construction.
And it makes me wonder, how long until we all sleep under quilts sewn from old phones? Just pray you don’t wet the bed. Because everyone, and I mean everyone, will hear about it.