Newly developed technology can shine through fabric, making device notifications visible through garments and other items. The display, designed by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, makes basic time, weather, text, and emails visible beneath everyday fabric via a high-contrast, graphic, light-emitting diode (LED) display. The researchers presented a paper on their design at the 2021 ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in October.

Known as PocketView, the research team created prototypes of their LED light display that could incorporate into existing or next-generation devices. The prototypes mimic smartphones, key fobs, pens, and other small electronics. PocketView could also work as a standalone solution for simple notifications.

As human-computer specialists, the research team first conducted a public survey to determine what innovations in technology people want and need to improve day-to-day experience. Based on survey results the team identified a desire to resize and reshape device displays. The team then developed PocketView around the results. 

As a small standalone device, PocketView can accommodate smaller pockets in women’s clothing more comfortably than a smartphone. Users could also carry such a device in a small pocket in sports clothing to view navigation or fitness tracking easily while biking or running. And a display that’s visible through a pocket would enable someone to discretely view text or email notifications without causing distraction.

Unlike many recently developed smart garment displays, the new Bluetooth-enabled LED technology doesn’t require special fabric made from electronic components. This makes PocketView an affordable next-generation display option that could have broad applications. These could include a small device that interfaces with health apps and biosensors to improve the user experience of wearable health technology.