Cyborgs

This heated jacket uses AI, Alexa, and other buzzwords to keep you perfectly snug

Ministry of Supply’s new Mercury jacket learns about your habits to figure out when to turn up the temperature.

Feb 21, 2018
Courtesy of Ministry of Supply

Cyborgs

This heated jacket uses AI, Alexa, and other buzzwords to keep you perfectly snug

Ministry of Supply’s new Mercury jacket learns about your habits to figure out when to turn up the temperature.

Feb 21, 2018

If you consider the wintertime need to wear a heavy jacket into a warm subway car a “major wardrobe problem,” Ministry of Supply has a solution for you.

The Boston-based clothing company, known for experimenting with technology, has just launched a Kickstarter for its newest creation, the Mercury smart thermal jacket. It’s an internet-of-things-enabled, heated jacket that’s controlled by an app, syncs with Alexa, and customizes its temperature using machine learning.

That’s an awful lot of buzzwords. But underneath it all is a genuinely intriguing product.

Heated jackets aren’t new. You can purchase one online right now in the same price range as the $195 and $295 options Ministry of Supply is offering. But they rely on you to activate and adjust them (oh, the agony). The Mercury, on the other hand, uses an accelerometer and temperature sensors to change the amount of heat it pumps out according to the ambient temperature and your activity levels. Relief from the cold without the sweaty subway ride—a true miracle of cutting-edge technology.

For those curious, the experience of wearing the jacket is … fine. The Bluetooth connections still need streamlining, and on an unseasonably warm Boston day, the heating elements weren’t really necessary. But it pretty much does what it’s meant to, and the jacket itself takes advantage of the high-quality materials for which Ministry of Supply is known. I tried on a prototype, so it’s likely that the final product, which ships in November, will have some of the kinks worked out. But it doesn’t, as the company’s promotional copy promises, really solve a critical “wardrobe problem” (at least not one this reporter has).

A thermal camera view of the Mercury jacket prototype.
Erin Winick

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the jacket, though, is that Ministry of Supply is using it to explore what happens when our clothing becomes part of the internet of things—and, therefore, a source of data. “As a clothing company, the best data you [typically] have is if your customer bought your product and who is your customer,” says the company’s cofounder and president, Gihan Amarasiriwardena. As more people buy Mercury jackets, Ministry of Supply will learn all sorts of new and interesting things, like how often customers wear the jacket, how long their commutes are, their temperature preferences, whether they wear the jacket while working out, and so on.

Of course, this means buying a Mercury requires you to accept that the company will track your behavior whenever you wear it. We may have grown used to this with our smartphones, but are we ready to turn over new kinds of personal data in return for a company’s promise to use it to build a better garment? Ministry of Supply is betting that what has become axiomatic in the tech world—companies with the most and best data gain a competitive advantage—will translate to the apparel industry. If so, the connected closet may not be far off.