Solar Jacket in The New Yorker

For me, the annual New Yorker Style Issue is usually thin on content and long on made-up 15 year olds looking studiously blase about their Burberry togs. But this issue featured an article by Henry Alford called "Solar Chic," where the author user tests a Zegna bomber jacket with removable solar panels in the collar. The solar panel fed a battery in the breast pocket which, in turn, would charge standard 5-volt devices like music players and phones. The piece could almost be a case from the Knight et al. paper.

Emotionally, the author starts out feeling the need to explain the jacket to gawkers on the subway. He immediately gets a positive response. Afterward, his encounters with the public seem to be overwhelming positive, so I don't detect much anxiety about wearing the jacket. This may be in part due to his reporter's duties, but I think he also began to enjoy the attention it created.

I didn't read any problems about the attachment of the device. He had to make some adjustments to the angle of the collar to get it the battery to charge properly, but nothing suggests that he was uneasy about the way the technical components attached to his garment.

Nor did find evidence that the author felt he would be harmed by the device. One waiter joked about electrocution, but nothing serious was reported. I would say that initially the author felt conspicuously odd with the three-inch-high collar, so that may be something he had to overcome. I'm not sure how the collar would have affected the movement of the head and neck, but the author did not report any problems with that, so we can take that as a good sign.

There were, however, extensive comments about the function and reliability of the device, so much so that Alford goes back to the manufacturer to ask for advice on improving its ability to charge. He goes through many different scenarios where he adjusts the collar on and off the jacket, so much so that I think, beyond a geeky curiosity, there is a slight sense of unease about getting the thing running properly.

On the whole, the jacket seems like a good wearable device. The manufacturers will probably have to redesign the collar or more clearly advise customers on the ideal position of the solar panels. The author shows a reporter's aplomb by diving into the public with the thing, so it may not be ideal for introverts. But, for people who don't mind wearing a conversation piece, it seems to succeed admirably. And you can charge your iPod.

Copyright Mike Edwards 2006-2009. All content available under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license, unless otherwise noted.