The field of wearables, which is the incorporation of electronics and computation into clothing or other body worn accessories, has been an emerging field of research since its inception during the 1960s with Claude Shannon and Edward Thorpe and their wearable roulette prediction computer[Tho98]5. With the wide adoption of mobile smartphones, the research field has grown considerably and consumer products are beginning to emerge. The field of wearables is focused almost exclusively for human use and, as such, soft and flexible technologies such as electronic-textiles that can conform to the human body for comfort are continually pursued. These technologies and materials provide a point of intersection for researchers of wearables and soft-architecture roboticists. However this point of intersection should not be limited to technological advancements but should transcend and incorporate apparel design methodologies and practices. Sartorial robotics, as a practice, is meant as a bridge between the two fields and can be utilized in both the pursuit of robotics and the pursuit of wearables. In fact the impetus for developing sartorial robotics was the transition from my research work on wearables intended for people, to research on wearables intended for humanoid robots, specifically Honda’s ASIMO6 robot.
Honda’s ASIMO humanoid robot platform began as an exploration of bipedal locomotion but has evolved into a potential domestic assistive humanoid robot which would be situated into our daily personal and social lives. The existing robotic platform is heavily dependent on computer vision for environmental sensing and has no pressure-based sensing on its surfaces for either collision detection or perhaps even more importantly social touch gesture recognition. Social touch gestures are touch interactions that contain social value, for example determining the difference between tickling and poking, and thus in turn interpreting its social meaning or perhaps simply recognizing a pat on the back to indicate a job well done[Kni09]. Understanding social touch gesture is critical once people begin to physically interact with robot bodies and vice versa. Embedding pressure-based sensors into the existing outer plastic shells is a common method for incorporating force sensing into robotics[Mar04][Sti05]. Since this would require a complete redesign of the shell housings and internal structures, which would be costly and time consuming, another solution was sought.