Do Textile Professors Dream of Electric Sweaters?

Last month Brooks Hagan (Associate Professor, Textiles) updated faculty and students on his National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Virtual Textiles Research Group. Hagan with his co-Principal Investigators (PIs) Steve Marschner, Kavita Bala, and Doug James first attempted to demonstrate the potential for elements from the physical world to appear and behave in the computer in an accurate and measurable manner. In this early non-interactive example of Steve and Doug’s work, which took 48-hours to render, we see a falling scarf.

Later research by Steve and Doug created models that could show movement in relation to human locomotion and predict physical behavior, including highlighting physical stress points in knitted fabrics, which can been seen in the latter third of the video below.

The circular exchange of knowledge that allows the construction of predictive models relies on the ability to source data on the appearance and deformation of fabrics by measuring fabrics in the ‘real world’. This pattern of informing and re-informing the model allows the research team to make sure that the simulations they create are tethered to and replicate actual real word conditions. The data they generate is based-off minute measurements taken from CT scanning textiles. Below is an example of a CT scan video of a cross section of woven textile, from which data can be gathered about yarn deflection, density, and fiber type, which is the ‘matter’ of a fabric.

Hagan takes inspiration from a diverse range of sources including the movie Blade Runner¬†whose themes of time, memory, and conflation of ‘real’ and ‘replicant’ beg questions about the new realities opened up through the precision rendering of the physical world. Will we create virtual worlds that are, to use a corporate tag line from the film, “More Human, Than Human”? Ultimately, Hagan comes back to the RISD approach “hands, machines, and computers” and the making of physical objects as he and his research team delve into some of these questions.

 

Cover Image: Blade Runner, 1982, Warner Bros.