Coming Soon: Clothes That Record Speech

Yoel Fink, a materials-science professor at MIT, has invented a new type of fiber that can detect and produce sound—potentially opening the way for shirts that are also microphones or voice recorders, or tiny fibers which could measure your vitals. Fink has long thought that we should be able to demand a lot more from the fibers in our clothes. So for a decade, his lab has been developing fibers that can interact with their environment. His newest creation, with Shunji Egusa, Noémie Chocat, and Zheng Wang, will be published in next month's Nature Materials. The secret of the new acoustic fibers is that they're piezoelectric. Their piezoelectric properties come from engineering at the atomic level: Each strand of fiber has fluorine atoms only on one side, and hydrogen atoms on the other. The different in charge held by those atoms creates a "lopsided" electric field across the fiber itself. Thus, when an electric field is applied to the fibers, they flex and change shape. And also visa versa: When the fibers change shape—due to a sound wave, for example—they emit an electric signal. (Piezoelectric materials are what lie behind all those schemes to have floors that produce electricity when a person walks across them.) "You can actually hear them, these fibers," says Chocat, one of the fiber's co-creators. If connected to an AC current, the fabric actually vibrates—and you can hear notes coming off of it, if the current is right. The researchers believe the fibers could be used in wearable microphones (at last!) or—more practically—in tiny sensor filaments that could measure the blood pressure in a capillary or in the brain. The fibers could also be woven into massive sonar detectors. Or, more fantastically, you could pair the acoustic fibers with others that Zink's lab has developed, to create fabrics that when stretched give off electricity and light. [Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT/Greg Hren]

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  • Zharptitsa

    Brainstorming is great, if you're with cooperative folks not driven primarily by ego. In Susan Cain's book Quiet she points out that often brainstorming doesn't work with groups because of the fear of rejection, and that people come up with more and better ideas, often, during quiet and alone times of reflection.  I think a combo of both is better, meet to discuss the issue, separate to ponder, and the meet again to discuss. Just that added part in the middle, which often happens more by accident than design, can help. 

  • Good Square

    Now you know why Steve Jobs was innovator. There's a documentary on Steve Jobs interview which was recorded in 1995, which brings all these points home. Must see.

  • Nikol

    I love your first boss' remark about disagreeing with him once a day. I also stand by that rule and always had even as a student. It builds confidence in what you are saying and shows leadership even if your ideas aren't being used all the time. 

    Another favorite of mine is the first 10 ideas you come up with are probably terrible. Get them out of your head so the real good ideas can then surface. 

  • Brian

    I won't plug the book, but the Disney "Imagineers" have some great tools they use to get the ball rolling and keep it rolling. 

  • John Mackay

    The problem as I see it is that brainstorming is more of a catch-all phrase and means different things to different people. 

    I would argue [grin] that argument or critique is an integral part of the brainstorming process that comes *after* everyones great ideas have found their way onto the board. 

    The problem with immediately critiquing an idea is that it moves the group's mental focus to critiquing instead of generating new ideas--it kills ideas! It favours assertive and often senior members of the group to bring their "position" or power into play and runs the risk of non-assertive members of the group deciding to sit on their ideas rather than face immediate and open critique in front of their peers. 

    I say, get everyone's ideas on the board first no matter how silly they sound, no if's but's or maybes because sometimes those silly sounding ideas help to spawn new ideas. Once you're satisfied that you've spawned all of your good ideas then and only then do you start to review them, critique them and argue their respective merits. And in the context of all the other ideas sitting on the board you'll probably find that just one or two ideas stand out to the whole group and the other ideas don't even need looking at. 

    But if you has started arguing ideas straight out of the pot so to speak that great idea may never have found its way on to the board.

  • Kyle McHattie

     Exactly. Brainstorming is about creativity. Arguing is about judgement. All this article does is talk about how these "experts" have changed the definition of brainstorming to mean something else to make themselves look important. Good ideas are fueled by creativity. Brainstorming is the group creative process and is very effective. The arguing and critiquing come after brainstorming.

  • David Stuart

    Ideation. What a terrible word to invoke creativity. It's a corporate word. A word that triggers a connotation of conference rooms and white boards and colored pens and forced moments of "fun," and "creativity." It's gag inducing.

    Here's an idea... no brainstorming required: Use the word imagination or creativity - which connote exactly what they mean - when attempting to be imaginative or creative.

    These 5 "rules," are so rudimentary as to be almost laughable. Focus on a common goal? Keep it fun? Brilliant. My first "rule," would be to disallow the use of the word ideation. The s econd would be to get out of the conference room.

    Most great ideas weren't generated in a square white box using flip charts and colored pens. They were generated in a place where the mind can truly wander over something and reflect.

  • Sara Farooqi

    We live in a really confrontation-averse, artificially polite society. Arguing and dialoguing is a lot messier and uncomfortable than the traditional brainstorming model.  A lot of people claim to appreciate different opinions, but in reality, not so much, and all too often, people are pushed back into their agreeable shells.

    I love what your boss said to you about how disagreeing with him at least once a day is a requirement of your job! You're actually rewarded for thinking differently. Discord is both normalized and formalized in your workplace. Hats off to Continuum for building that kind of culture. In actuality, it's much more inclusive than an environment where everyone operates under the guise of agreement. 


  • Michael Thomas

    Ive got an idea why doesent everyone stop trying unsucessfully to brainstorm and call in professional help an inventing consultant creator to produce top marketable special order patented new product ideas and then partnership with him for a reasonable % of profits. Its unfair to employees to expect them to produce marketable ideas for the company then pay them nothing but wages.  

  • Steve

     Please call Michael Thomas on ...........................if you do not mind programmes based on bad spelling, 'doesent' and total lack of puncuation.

  • fustian

    So - you know at a consulting, design, marketing firm - your wages are in exchange for marketable ideas.  But sure, your idea is better.  I'll hire you, pay you NOTHING and give you 0.01% of EBITA once the product you come up with is commercialized.  Deal?

  • Dr.K

    'But we don’t brainstorm. We deliberate.'

    Maybe... let me start by AGREEING WITH YOU, Daniel, because I've been to four 'brainstorming' sessions in the decade, and all 4 were head-down, laptops running, sit-down, wait-for-DearLeader to speak affairs... briefly, NOT brainstorming at all...

    Which invites my disagreement with you, Sir, in that the 'deliberation' you outline has been (and continues to be) the positive, creative, constructive power behind the ACTUAL brainstorming sessions I've attended (and conducted)...

    'The spark of truth' coming from 'the clash of differing opinions'... the fun of smashing my idea to bits with others, and then gleefully rearrange SOME of the pieces into something that lives, walks, WORKS...  That's brainstorming, deliberately! :D

  • jmco

    In design, its called a crit. It happens thousands of times a day in studios and firms around the world, before a client even sees a thing.
    AKA: refinement.

  • Alan Crabb

    Unfortunately there is a very part of us that wants to conform and is very sensitive to criticism. Dr Steve Peter's call this our chimp mind. This mind is always on the look out for danger and it is more powerful and quicker than our rational, or as Dr Peter's calls it, our human mind. 
    Brainstorming or any other group decision making is unsuccessful in producing creative ideas for this reason.

  • Cedricj

    Conflict, as you say, can generate innovation. 

    But the conflict cannot be personal, political, or vindictive.

    It must be about ideas  where the person does not have an ego investment in being right or getting their way.cedricj.wordpress.comInspiring leaders to inspire others

  • gbacoder

    Having said what I said, those tips are still useful."No b/c" does not imply someone is wrong as much as "no". It leaves it open to debate, on whether the b/c is correct. Just "no" closes things off, and that person's ego is attached to it as well. And of course have fun. And be clear of the goal. Sometimes spin off ideas can be BETTER though, so if they do come up, write them down for later, then re-focus! But overall yes, as brainstorming goes it will pay to be reminded of these tips at the start of each session. Social rules / guidelines can make all the difference. 

  • gbacoder

    I'm not yet convinced that brainstorming can work, but worth a try. Studies show that individuals create the best ideas while alone. I do wonder that this is hard for US culture in particular to accept. It is more understood in Europe I feel. Same with the notion that leaders cannot be introverts. Yet we see many great examples, esp. from Japan.

  • Karridine

     Sir, the productive brainstorming I've experienced was done with several distinctive features: Very Visual (whiteboards around the room, EVERYBODY having several colored pens/markers,); Universal Participation Mandatory- Everybody adds, criticizes, develops, leaves marks on the huge sheets of butcher-paper around the room... and ALL contributions are appreciated; NO LAPTOPS in session; NO Chairs or stools... yes, a focused, high-energy, GUIDED session that all know will NOT drag on, will NOT be long, heavy minutes of waiting for all the people absorbed with their laptops to 'agree' with Dear Leader...

  • Daphinytsno

    I loved the 5 steps ........ I will be using them whenever and however I can ...... Thanks .........