Pants that can charge your cellphone are a silly idea that more wearable tech manufacturers should take to heart

By James Robinson , written on June 26, 2014

From The News Desk

The future doesn't always sound sensible or sane.

Last Tuesday, in partnership with Microsoft, designer Adrien Sauvage debuted a new pair of pants that could wirelessly charge a Nokia phone. Taking Sauvage six months to design, the trousers have a charging plate that uses an electromagnetic field to transfer electricity from one object to another. The charging pocket uses energy that is sent to the phone, which then uses it to charge to the battery. There were minor kinks to overcome, Sauvage has said, like distributing the heat from the phone charger so that the pants were not completely uncomfortable to wear. Oh, and he’s named the pants wearable chinos. (Gross.)

They’re also not machine washable. Which makes sense.

“My phone is always dying so I was super interested in the idea,” Sauvage said before the launch.

No kidding. All our phones are always dying. Way to state the obvious, man. That’s not a you thing. We’re using our phones each day to listen to music, play games, write email, shop, socialize, plan our lives, share our secrets, and work on documents. If you get stuck without a charger there’s a good chance you end the day nervously doling out your phone time in brief increments, thinking of your battery life as the most precious of scarce resources. The idea itself is almost laughable, that we’ve come so far with smartphone technology now, that we need to give our pants superpowers to keep them going all day.

Yes, Sauvage’s pants only work with Nokia DC-50 phones and are more than a niche idea right now. But they speak to a need so universal and unmet -- we all have phones, we all use them a lot, the battery always dies -- that it almost sounds trite to hear him describe that particular pain point.

By contrast, wearable technology makers seem so driven to quantify everything and give people new controls, which only early adopters and tech enthusiasts have shown any excitement toward.

Debuting Android Wear at Google I/O yesterday, the company showed off that from the face of its new smart watch you could use Pinterest and get pinged when you’re near a friend’s location. You could order a pizza, dial-up a recipe, or summon a Lyft.

I’ve never once craved the power to do all of that from my wrist. I have bemoaned the constant drain of power out of phone. Score one for charging pants.

Meanwhile, other wearables are looking to quantify our pulse, hydration, stress, muscle tension, blood sugar and sleep quality. All the while, this technology has a high abandonment rate. Because at the end of the day, just maybe, this information is only fascinating for a moment, and we can just as accurately monitor our health through common sense, not eating junk food, getting some sleep and exercising more days that we don’t.

Pants that charge your phone are a silly idea that speaks to a need that we all have. Until wearable technology can address actual needs like this, enhancing our lives rather than trying to heap in new features, this will remain a sector searching for a purpose.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]