Robots on runway: Designer to phone it in with telepresence bot during London Fashion Week

Fashion has long been obsessed with technology. The obsession has not always been a two-way street.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

In February, designer Philipp Plein got some ink by including a person wearing a robot costume in his New York Fashion Week runway show. Now another designer, Los Angeles-based Honee, will trot out the real thing at the upcoming London Fashion Week in September.

Honee's tech partner on the robotic catwalk will be OhmniLabs, which makes telepresence robots for remote applications, as well as Kambria, a related organization founded by the OhmniLabs core team. Kambria is using blockchain technology to drive open development of frontier technologies like AI, which benefit OhmniLabs' commercial play.

Fashion has long been obsessed with technology, although it hasn't always been a two-way street where Silicon Valley founders are concerned. (That said, OhmniLabs co-founder Thuc Vu can certainly rock an open top collar button.)

In an article last year, journalist Edgar Alvarez argued that fashion and technology will ultimately meld into one thing. His observation is that as tech companies seek to colonize the body via wearables and fashion designers simultaneously try to outpace the competition with cutting edge designs that respond to the human body and are easier to manufacture, the walls between Paris and Silicon Valley are bound to fall.

Alvarez cites examples like 3D-printed textiles and smart fabrics, which are already making their way into consumer products.

He makes a compelling point, although it's worth adding that fashion and technology have always been closely entwined. The international cotton boom of the 19th century, for example, came on the heels of the invention of the cotton gin, which Eli Whitney patented in 1794, and created the raw ingredients for global sartorial trends like denim workwear.

(We're more accustomed to thinking of technology as it connects with the economy and human experience. Whitney's technological achievement inadvertently created a huge labor demand, which in turn led to a drastic expansion of the American slave trade throughout the mid-19th century.)

The first-of-its-kind London Fashion Week debut of a robot on the catwalk is symbolic of the growing fusion of fashion and tech.

"I am thrilled to have the sponsorship of OhmniLabs, a telepresence robotic company," says Honee. "My show with the House of iKons this September is named 'ÁI', in reference to Artificial Intelligence and also the play on the Vietnamese word ÁI for love and the Chinese phonetic AI for love as well. We're in the world of AI and loving it."

Honee's designs for the show are under wraps, but she did tease that her vision is to help people see robots as part of everyday.

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