Alum’s ‘SpiderSense’ jacket featured in Museum of Science and Industry exhibition

UIC alumnus Victor Mateevitsi and his SpiderSense tactile jacket

A jet suit that can travel more than 30 miles per hour and ascend to 12,000 feet. Self-lacing sneakers. And a jacket that allows its wearer to navigate by using vibrations to alert them to obstacles in close proximity.

These objects are just a few of the more than 100 wearable technology pieces that are included at the Museum of Science and Industry’s (MSI) Wired to Wear exhibition, the first ever dedicated to wearable technology.

The inclusion of UIC alumnus Victor Mateevitsi’s SpiderSense tactile jacket in the exhibition thrills its designer.

“I’ve never had my technology in a museum,” Mateevitsi said. “As scientists, we do bleeding-edge work but we typically are presenting to peers, in journals. We rarely get the chance to share work directly with the public, and see them interact with it.”

Mateevitsi earned his Ph.D. in computer science, with a specialization in human augmentics from UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL). Human augmentics can enable humans to see and hear better, absorb and interpret more information and increase physical endurance. Not all of human augmentics is what we would consider the stuff of science fiction: it can include eyeglasses or hearing aids. More recent technologies include robotic limbs, Bluetooth earpieces and biometric sensors.

The EVL at UIC, where the human augmentics research is being pioneered, is an internationally renowned interdisciplinary research laboratory that enables scientific and engineering discoveries by designing and developing high-performance visualization, virtual reality, and collaboration systems using advanced networking infrastructure. Established in 1973 as a joint effort of the UIC College of Engineering and School of Art and Design, EVL is the oldest formal collaboration between engineering and art in the U.S.

The original SpiderSense prototype had 13 sensors, located on the shoulders, wrists, chest, upper back, lower back and abs. SpiderSense technology works by vibrating to let the user know if they are approaching an object, or if an object is approaching them. It can be used by people who are visually impaired or people in the line of duty, such as soldiers or firefighters, who are in areas of low visibility.

Mateevitsi worked on other tools during his time at UIC’s EVL, including developing 3D Visualization Software for the U.S. Air Force medical researchers, inventing the HealthBar, an ambient persuasive technology reflecting the health status of an office worker, and developing a client-server application enabling medical researches to upload image datasets to a remote database.

He currently works as a human-computer interaction research scientist and sensory engineer at GN Advanced Science, a company that makes medical, professional and consumer audio products, including hearing aids.

There are still some hurdles before the SpiderSense can be commercialized. The first prototype, which Mateevitsi co-invented with fellow UIC students Brad Haggadone and Brian Kunzer while at UIC, was a bit clunky, with 13 modules strapped to the wearer’s body. The second iteration, developed by Mateevitsi, is more streamlined and easier to wear, but the electronics are housed in plastic cases, and the SpiderSense jacket cannot be washed without damaging the wires.

“I’m waiting for technology to catch up,” Mateevitsi said.

While we wait, visitors to the Wired to Wear exhibit have the opportunity to test out SpiderSense. Using Mateevitsi’s concept, technological futurist firm Quantum XPR built out a vest for the exhibition, and guests navigate a space relying on the haptic feedback the vest provides to alert them to obstacles in close proximity. Mateevitsi’s first two prototypes are also on display.

“Wearable technology sits at the intersection of design, technology and innovation, and we are proud to bring together compelling examples of how it is changing the world,” said David Mosena, MSI’s president and chief executive officer. “We designed Wired to Wear to showcase the possibilities that wearable technology presents for society now and help guests understand how it can create opportunities for them they could have never imagined.”

The Wired to Wear exhibition opened March 21. Wired to Wear is sponsored by BMO Harris Bank and will remain at MSI through May 2020. It is not included in Museum Entry and requires an additional timed-entry ticket, $12 for adults and seniors, and $9 for children. For more information on the exhibition, visit msichicago.orgor call 773-684-1414.