British Columbia

Laughing dress designed by SFU students lights up Vancouver social scene

A group of graduate students at Simon Fraser University have dreamed up a crazy way of navigating Vancouver’s reputation for being a stuck-up, isolated city.

Group says Vancouver’s reputation of being an unwelcoming city gave them their inspiration

A group of SFU graduate students have created a dress they say will help ease those awkward social interactions. (Wynnie Chung)

Wondering how to break the ice with someone new? Maybe all you need is the right outfit...from the Simon Fraser University's School of Interactive Arts and Technology.

Motivated by Vancouver's reputation as a stuck-up city, SFU graduate students Emily Ip, Wynnie Chung and Sun-Min Lee have created a dress that lights up and laughs when someone approaches the wearer.

"The dress is a wearable interface that we embedded technology [in] such as computers, LEDs, speakers, and sensors that will sense the wearer's body's physiological behaviour and react to the environment," Ip told Rick Cluff, host of CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

The fancy tech causes the dress to emit a rising, hysterical laughing noise from tiny speakers, while simultaneously lighting up when the wearer is approached or standing near another person.

'A happiness contagion'

Chung said the point of the project is to understand how people mimic behaviours they detect around them in public places.

"The intent behind our dress is to explore the use of laughter. Almost within the dress is a happiness contagion that's a way to break the social boundaries between strangers in a public space."

Vancouver's reputation for being a closed-off city with unapproachable people was the inspiration for this project, according to Ip. She says a study conducted by Vancouver Foundation gave purpose to the goal of their work.

"They did a study back in 2012 where they said about 60 per cent of people do face this difficulty of social isolation within Vancouver."

"People do want to meet and connect with people, but they have this difficulty to step past that line."

Men's version coming soon

The group will demonstrate the dress at the International Symposium on Electronic Art starting this Friday, at SFU.

They say while this primary stage of their work provides a feeler towards what they have created, it can also have a real effect for those who struggle with public interactions.

"For people who may not have the ability to express themselves perhaps through sound, or with their gestures, we can use light patterns or sounds to represent how they're feeling to other people," said Chung.

The team's future work will also include different types of clothing tailored to men as well, but according to Ip, the premise will remain the same.

"Clothing is such an important part of everyday life. If we put technologies in it, we're able to understand our bodies a lot better [and] it might be able to help us improve our being and our interaction with people and space."


To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: SFU students create a dress to helps you break the ice in stuck-up Vancouver.

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