10 August 2018
While it’s completely invisible and only a single atom thick, graphene is the lightest, strongest, most conductive material ever discovered, and has the same potential to change life on Earth as stone, bronze and iron once did. But it remains difficult to work with, extremely expensive to produce at scale, and lives mostly in pioneering research labs. So, following in the footsteps of the scientists who discovered it through their own highly speculative experiments, we’re releasing graphene-coated jackets into the world as experimental prototypes.
For the Graphene Jacket we think about our R&D process in three stages. The first stage was all about building the jacket. To condense several years of work into a couple of sentences, it’s involved turning raw graphite into graphene nanoplatelets. These small stacks of graphene are then blended with polyurethane and nylon to create an entirely new material that’s instantly stronger and can store and conduct heat, repel bacteria, conduct power, let sweat evaporate, and keep wind and rain out, but without adding a single gram of weight.
The second stage of the R&D process is the one that we’re starting now. By putting Graphene Jackets out into the world as experimental prototypes, our aim is to open up our R&D process and accelerate discovery by getting graphene out of the research labs and into the field. And we’re looking to harness the collective power of our early adopters as a test group to do it.
Together they’re some of the smartest and most hardcore guys in the world – adventurers, entrepreneurs, scientists – so we believe that between them they’re likely to discover things that we simply don’t know. It brings massive scale to our ability to experiment with the material to see how it behaves.
No-one knows the true limits of what graphene can do yet, so the first edition of the Graphene Jacket is a fully reversible jacket with no inside or outside. One side is coated entirely in graphene. The other isn’t. The graphene side looks gun metal grey. The non-graphene side is matt black and made from high-strength, high-stretch nylon. Depending on which way round you wear it and what you do in it, the jacket will interact with your body and the world around it in a series of different ways.
We think of the third stage of research and development as the Graphene Jacket 2 and beyond. Which is why we looked to the Apple 1 for inspiration at the very start of this project. The fact it now looks like a 19thC artefact shows that all tech has to start somewhere. In tech you can either be early or late. With a supermaterial like graphene the research and development phase may never be finished, and we could still be improving on this jacket in 10 or even 50 years’ time. So we decided to be early.
The way we look at it is that like any new technology the industry around graphene may only mature over the next 10 to 100 years – so we’re happy to help to play our part in driving the industry forward. One of the examples we look to when we think about graphene’s future, is silicon. While it was discovered by a Swedish chemist in 1824, it took nearly a century before silicon semiconductors paved the way for the rise of computers.
So unlike normal clothing we haven’t approached this by looking for short term competitive advantages. We think about the first edition of the jacket more as a research tool, a way of getting us to the future faster – and that’s making clothing that is eventually able to utilise the full potential of graphene as the lightest, strongest and most conductive material on Earth.
Our first edition of the Graphene Jacket is the very first step towards our end goal of creating bionic clothing that is both bulletproof and intelligent.
That said, even this first edition of the jacket is able to do things that have never done before. As physicists at the Max Planck Institute discovered, graphene challenges the fundamental laws of heat conduction, which means your jacket will not only conduct the heat from your body around itself to equalize your skin temperature and increase it, but the jacket can also theoretically store an unlimited amount of heat, which means it can work like a radiator.
And when clothing can start conducting heat and electricity all sorts of cool things can start happening. It means that over the next decade your clothing can start to become a platform for other innovations. And that’s really what we’re interested in. Heating is not the end game. Our view is that wearable technology will become increasingly invisible over the next 10 to 20 years. Instead of wearing it over your eyes or on your wrist, it will be embedded as clothing and tech simply merge. We think graphene’s ability to conduct heat and power and withstand insane forces, while adding zero mass, should make it central to the story.
Getting graphene into clothing is the start of a journey likely to last thousands of years. It sits alongside cavemen putting on animal skins and humans cultivating cotton. Until today the challenge has been how to get graphene out of research labs and into the real world. Now the challenge is whether you’d like to take part in the next stage of this supermaterial’s history. The Graphene Jacket experiment is now open. You can now buy it, test it and tell us about it.