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The Next Old Thing

Illustration Spur Design

Getty Images (Franklin); Rupert Kaldor (jacket)

Getty Images (Franklin); Rupert Kaldor (jacket)

The Technology: Wearable GPS
The Product: We:eX Navigate Jacket
The Forebear: Benjamin Franklin

Back in the 1700s, Benjamin Franklin’s bifocals were every bit as innovative as Google Glass is today. “Ooh,” people would remark to the inventive Founding Father, “you can sign historical documents and keep an eye on Button Gwinnett to make sure he doesn’t pilfer your pen—with the same glasses!”

Now, 230 years on, an even cleverer piece of wearable technology is about to hit the market. Made by the Australian company Wearable Experiments—or, more snappily, We:eX—the Navigate Jacket combines the latest in GPS technology with the style sense of Pat Benatar.

The way it works: The wearer (user?) enters a destination into a companion app, then sashays out onto the streets; as she approaches her turn, LED light strips sewn onto the sleeves of the jacket flicker to tell her how close she is; when she reaches the turn, a vibrating shoulder pad indicates the correct direction. If she misses the turn, the jacket explodes.

Okay, that last part isn’t true—but We:eX does have a few more tricks up its high-tech sleeve. “We are currently working on Navigate 2.0,” says company co-founder Billie Whitehouse. “It’s a men’s jacket programmed specifically for New York City. The jacket and accompanying app suggest hidden gems and off-the-beaten-track places to visit, as well as the traditional navigation options.”

Benjamin Franklin—who once said “To follow by faith alone is to follow blindly”—would have approved. Indeed, it seems likely that, were he alive today, he would have encouraged even more ingenious uses for the technology—cowboy boots that emit an urgent beep when combined with dress pants, say, or a hat that screams “Look out!” when it senses a falling piano.

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