Opale is an emotive garment which can recognize and respond to the facial expressions of people around. This project is funded by the USC Bridge Art + Science Alliance Research Grant program.

We tend to respond to people around us through our unconscious facial expressions and bodily movements. When surrounded by smiling people, we often smile back. And when threatened, we often take on a defensive stance. Animals do the same. Dogs, cats and mice bristle their fur as a defensive mechanism or form of intimidation. So why can’t we develop clothing to do the same? What if our clothing were to be capable of detecting the mood of those around us? And what if it could respond accordingly?

Opale is a custom-made, fashion item, which integrates soft robotics and facial tracking technology. The outfit is inspired by animal fur and is composed of a forest of fiber optics embedded in silicon. It is equipped with a facial tracking camera and can detect a range of facial expressions: happiness, sadness, surprise, anger and neutral. It also incorporates a pneumatic system that responds to various types of behaviors. For example, if people around express ‘surprise’ the wearer’s shoulder area will start to inflate, as though mimicking the raising of eyebrows or opening of the mouth. Or when they express ‘anger’, the wearer’s shoulder and chest start to inflate and deflate with a frantic, aggressive motion. When people around start to smile and demonstrate ‘happiness’ the dress ripples subtly from top to bottom; when ‘sad’ the dress deflates slowly and when ‘neutral’ the dress remains motionless.

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How might clothing sense aggression, and go into defensive mode accordingly?

This project is an attempt to the technical possibilities of computer vision and dynamic actuation to address psycho-social questions of emotion, privacy and transparency. The capacity of computer vision to recognize different facial expressions has already been exploited for various commercial and advertising purposes, but the integration of such a system into clothing, along with shape changing interfaces, is a new venture which could open up new opportunities for the worlds of design, fashion and technology.

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The research is part of a broader ongoing collaboration into soft robotics between Behnaz Farahi and Paolo Salvagione, who developed compact mechanical and electrical systems deployed in this dress. The electrical circuit controls six low power electrical solenoids fitted with miniature CO2 capsules, capable of inflating pockets within the dress. Together with Julian Ceipek they wrote an algorithm to relay data from the camera to a micro controller in order to control the solenoids.

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Forest of fibre optics with pneumatic inflatable sections embedded underneath that respond to the onlooker's facial emotional responses.

Nicolas Cambier directed the video of Opale seen through the lens of another person’s clothing camera. While we cannot see the other person we can see the emotional responses detected in the main character.

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  • Behnaz Farahi
  • Paolo Salvagione
  • Julian Ceipek
  • Behnaz Farahi, Ryan Chavez, Valeri Vazquez Neri, Kayla Paredes, Daniel Kim, Po Steng Lao, Wen Wu
  • Nicolas Cambier
  • Takahashi Uchida
  • Kyle Smithers
  • Tifeny Moreira
  • Sara Tagaloa, Lizzie Davies
  • Ken Vandegaer
  • Ryan Chavez, Nate Cohen
    Special Thanks
  • Elizabeth Ramesy
  • USC, Media Art and Practices
  • USC, School of Architecture
  • USC, USC School of Cinematic Arts
  • USC, World Building Media Lab