For those stuck in an awkward, even dangerous situation, help is at hand by the stroke of a hair. The Hairware gadget is a hair extension with interwoven sensors that interact with a smartphone app. Just an innocuous gesture of preening one’s mane can send via Bluetooth a message to a friend or take a photograph. Its creator, technology designer and researcher at Pontifical Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro Katia Vega, tells Metro she is now working on a model geared for men. “Our next step is to understand men behavior and its relation with beards to make a prototype,” she said.

Where did your idea for a hair wearable come from?

– The hair extensions are part of a bigger project called Beauty Technology. While I was doing a PhD in computer science at PUC-Rio, I was researching into wearable computing and how we’re always pushing towards innovation. More specifically, I got into wearables that could ‘disappear’ in everyday objects. Then on a visit to the UK, I saw girls with a lot of hair accessories and hair extensions, and I get obsessed with integrating technology into hair.

But what attracted you to incorporate tech into hair?

– We, girls, play unconsciously with our hair all the time as an auto-contact behaviour. It is a behavioural message to other people but most of the time, observers don't get this message. If we use consciously the unconscious act of touching hair, we could have input to several devices without anybody noticing it. A mix between magic and James Bond gadgetry, I think.

How does your device work?

– Hairware is a Beauty Technology prototype that connects chemically metalized hair extensions to a microcontroller, turning it into an input device for triggering different objects. It acts as a capacitive touch sensor that detects touch variations on hair and uses machine-learning algorithms in order to recognize the user’s intention. Normally, while someone touches her own hair, unconsciously she is bringing comfort to herself and at the same time is emitting a non-verbal message decodable by an observer. However, when she replays that touch on Hairware, she is not just emitting a message to an observer, because touching her hair would trigger an object, creating in this way a concealed interface to different devices.

What apps can be controlled with this hair extension?

– There are no limits to apps. What we did was to offer a new technology that could communicate with different devices. The Hairware gizmo now is connecting to an smartphone using Bluetooth. But it could also be used via other wireless communication units in order to interact with other devices such as lights and appliances.

Is there an opportunity to make different things with different gestures?

– We started with those five gestures but we plan to integrate new gestures and combine with other technologies such as GPS, accelerometers and more.

Will you create a device for men in the future?

Yes! I will be working on beards. But I still need to figure out the design. Our next step will be to understand men behaviors and its relationship with beards to make a prototype that would detect those touches. I am very excited about it.