A Cambridge startup officially still in stealth is raising seed capital to exploit intelligent, always-fitting clothing with embedded AI controls, which it claims is machine washable and can be tumble dried – stealing a march on rival products from US and Korean tech giants.
Decorte Future Industries at St John’s Innovation Centre is patenting a futuristic exoskeleton design which allows intelligent clothing to be user adaptable at all times, to fit any body shape and style, for adults and youngsters. It has already raised some working capital and is bidding to clinch seed funding of £300k to take the technology from proof of concept to initial prototype.
Decorte founder and CEO Dr Roeland Decorte, a Cambridge PhD and codebreaking specialist, says offers of funding have been forthcoming but no term sheets have been signed so far as the business holds out to secure the most powerful mix of smart money between now and April.
He says the company is already receiving encouraging signals from key players in strong global markets such as defence, the intelligence services and retail. He says the washability element of the Decorte intelligent clothing puts the fledgling ahead of the likes of Google and Samsung.
The company has received moral and advisory support from significant players in the Cambridge and wider technology arena, including Dr Gordon Hollingworth, director of engineering at microcomputer pioneer Raspberry Pi – senior adviser to the business.
A number of local angels are also advising the company on an informal basis while Stephen Lile, managing Partner of Oxbridge Angels and VC Oxbridge Capital Partners, is a senior adviser. Further traction was achieved by the company in January as it appeared on BBC One’s Inside Out programme alongside the Cambridge Angels, who had picked Decorte Future Industries to appear with them on the big screen.
Pitching alongside Dr Decorte on the BBC was the company’s head of engineering – Jayna Jogia – who was previously a senior engineer with six years of experience at Cambridge Consultants before joining to work full-time on the Decorte exoskeleton.
Two Cambridge PhDs in Machine Learning, both with their own companies in the sector, also joined to advise; one of them leads a Silicon Valley startup that raised $2 million in Series A funding.
It functions as Decorte’s sister company, producing the ML software compatible with the Cambridge firm’s intelligent clothing hardware.
Dr Decorte says: “We believe our technology will trigger a retail revolution. The original idea was born out of frustration: I have not been alone in struggling to find day-to-day clothes that fit. When you want intelligent clothing, with built-in smart technology, it has to be size and material agnostic.
“Our Exoshirt Mark 1 is truly game-changing. When embedded into a garment on production the technology allows any clothing to be adapted to any body-shape or size.
“Furthermore it has solved the fundamental problem that many tech giants have been seeking to solve for over a decade (e.g. Google’s Project Jacquard) – how to make wearable, washable, digital clothing that is also lightweight and does not need heavy battery packs.
“Our solution allows our products to be modular: as much or as little tech as is required can be added to the core exoskeleton technology – from making phone calls and controlling virtual assistants through your clothing in B2C contexts, to embedding rugged comms and controlling UxS for defence purposes.”
In terms of military requirements, Dr Decorte envisages potential uses in terms of both regular uniforms and battlefield dress, having had the capability needs confirmed in meetings with top defence officials. He believes blue light services such as fire, police and ambulance could also benefit from the proposition.
Dr Decorte says: “I realised from the outset that the vision of the future as held by most in the tech world – where wearables become ubiquitous and undetectable through integration in daily wear – held as a hidden prerequisite a fundamental overhaul of clothing and the clothing industry.
“Having decided to forge a new business to address what I felt was a clear void in the market I was fortunate to immediately gather around me a team of some of the brightest tech minds in the Cambridge Cluster who joined without even the promise of equity.”
Dr Decorte was the youngest Belgian student to be admitted to Cambridge University in its 800 year-plus history. He had demonstrated entrepreneurial enterprise at the tender age of eight when he collected sunflower seeds discarded after school handicraft projects and set up a roadside stall to sell them on. Now he plans to spread a little more sunshine in a burgeoning wearables market.
He says; “Our technology is the next big leap in the evolution of computer platforms and human-machine interaction, transforming the human body itself into a user interface for the ever-expanding digital world.
“Our exoskeleton approach integrates the human into the Internet of Things and could render the smartphone unnecessary in many instances.
“The future of the digital world is seamless integration. We will soon arrive at the point where the IoT is so ubiquitous that we will not want to use individual screens, buttons or carefully placed virtual assistant boxes to interact with it. Tech will be all around us and humans will want to integrate themselves into that world.
“The key to seamless integration is allowing us to speak to tech the same way we do to humans – through voice, gesture and touch – fundamentally changing the human-machine team relationship.
“We are the first to make this future a reality: Graphene tattoos still wash away and competing intelligent clothing either cannot be washed at all or repeatedly, while also being limited to single-function commands – and none of them are body-adaptive.
“Imagine buying a smartphone that only works as expected if you are the right weight or body size. Those days of frustration are at an end.”
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