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Internet heroes: 

The guy who left NASA for a T-shirt

“When we officially launched Digital Dudz on YouTube, we made our money back in eight hours – and I realised I might be on to something,” says Mark Rober, an ex-NASA engineer who came up with the idea of “animated” clothing after he wore a T-shirt with an iPad stuck to it to a Halloween party, showing a video of animated guts and gore.

Now a fully-functional online store, Digital Dudz made $250,000 last year – despite users having to use duct-tape to stick smartphones into their T-shirts. This year’s range have pockets.

 Luckily, the guys at NASA have been completely supportive 
“I knew I would need to be able to dedicate more than just nights and weekends,” says Rober. “Luckily, the guys at NASA have been completely supportive and they told me I will always have a job there – but that I should go pursue this unique opportunity.”

Even while at the agency, Rober’s odd sense of humour could be seen in his experiments – such as one where he placed rubber animal models by the side of the road and found that 6% of American drivers would swerve out of their way to hit them.

What are “Digital Dudz”?

His “Digital Dudz” are animated T-shirts with a screen and sound effects,  which you control via a smartphone app, “It only takes 30 seconds to set up – you can play a video on the app that has a beating heart with sound effects,” he says.

“Then you couple that with a shirt that has a pocket on the inside for you mobile device to be held in place and the shirt has a picture of a zombie on it and there is an actual hole in the shirt where the zombie chest would be.”

Rober says that roughly half of viewers “wince” but the other half tend to “high-five”.

Because the animations are app-controlled, they respond to commands. “You can control the animations using the Apple headphones concealed in your pocket.  So people will go into a room for example with a shirt of a picture of a Zombie and his eyes aren’t moving… but then  the eyes start frantically looking all around the room. Then you stop them, and everyone just thinks they’ve gone crazy.”

Hello-ween

“Halloween was a breakthrough time for us. The YouTube videos have over 4.5 million views now,” he says. He also produced Christmas Digital Dudz sweaters with video of an actual crackling fire, carolling kittens and an animated Santa.

Rober is confident he’s onto something and says he could imagine future versions of Digital Dudz making it onto the catwalk.

 Apparel is the last frontier that technology hasn’t fully infiltrated 
“For thousands of years clothing has been static so to suddenly change that in one small sense really catches people off guard,” he says. “I think apparel is sort of the last frontier that technology hasn’t fully infiltrated our lives. In most cases it’s just not cost effective to pull off because the technology is too expensive.  This is an interim solution – until it becomes feasible to manufacture fully technological clothing.”

Rober partnered with Morphsuits to produce high resolution prints directly onto the stag party standby. And this year, Rober and Morphsuits have added a roster of Marvel superheroes to the range, complete with Zappar functionality to allow AR interaction with the suits. They’re sure to make you stand out at any social gathering, or at your mate’s Comic Con-themed 40th birthday party in July, you know, just for example.

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