Winter can be quite rough for Detroiters. It is also a major portion of our life, one we can't avoid, and must deal with as best we can. To really improve Winter mobility, we believe that Northern State residents particularly need much more affordable, lightweight, easy-to-use, and well-insulated heated outdoor clothing. Heat on demand is particularly useful for elderly, those with poor circulation, and those who cannot easily do vigorous exercise to generate their own heat.
We suggest that the most important outdoor Winter clothing element is a good, light, and warm e-heated jacket, with all-day heat in the chest, back, arms, pockets, and hood. It needs to be long enough at the front to have quick-access pockets to hold good and inductively-charging heated gloves, (with gentle heat in the fingers as well as palms) so you can quickly slip them off and store them, do fiddly things with your bare fingers, and then slip them back on quickly if your fingers get cold.
A good heated jacket needs a thermostat to keep a constant temperature, so users aren't constantly fiddling with the temperature controls as they move between different outdoor and indoor environments, and it needs to charge itself automatically when you take it off and hang it on a hook by the front door, so there is no fussing and minimal planning required with charging.
A good heated jacket also needs to be waterproof, with an oversized hood that shields against snow and rain and with gentle e-heating in both temples, so we don't have to wear ski masks outside when it is cold, we can see each others faces in Winter, enjoy each other's facial expressions, and generally hang out more and longer together outside, even on days when it is polar vortex cold.
An inexpensive, well-designed heated jacket like the above will make mobility more affordable, build an inviting outdoor environment during winter, and connect many more people, places, and opportunities during the long Winter months, where today people spend far too much time isolated away from each other, not using outdoor transportation solutions like e-bikes and scooters, because they are just too cold.
We've categorized this solution as "Other" because we think it is a particularly multidimensional, mobility improvement innovation.
No e-jacket designer has yet created anything like the jacket we've described above. Given the modest innovations that have been offered to date by current commercial designs, it may be many more years more till we see a e-jacket that really does become a cornerstone of Winter wear for many Northern residents, unless we put our ideas into practice, solicit more ideas and feedback from MCS residents today, build a couple of prototypes at a local MakerWorks, get a small group of MCS residents with diverse ages and occupations to use them this Winter, and record what they think of it and how it changed their mobility, and how it fell short.
Then we open publish all that on a Winter Mobility Project website and send it to the mayors of leading Northern Cities and to domestic jacket makers. Mayors may want to do an RFP to the jacket makers, consider financing jackets for low income residents, or doing other things with that info, as may current jacket makers and entrepreneurs.
In my own experiments, one of us (John) used one of the newest (DeWalt) heated jackets in Winter last year in Michigan, with an unheated hood and a good pair of gloves. This jacket/hood/glove combo had many things still missing to make it easy to use (see the list of ten things we'd like to see in a next gen design below) but it did helpme enjoy being outdoors, even on the coldest, windiest days. The DeWalt battery is good for eight hours of outdoor use. I charged it nightly at home, in a process that was far too time-consuming and foresight-requiring than it should be.
Folks with limited time, energy, and mobility would not like today's heated jackets. Unfortunately, today's better heated jackets are also still too expensive for many inner city residents. No inexpensive, city-financed installment payment financing is available for them for qualifying residents. Making that financing available, along with a next generation jacket, hood, and glove design, might be one of the most powerful ways to change the walking mobiity and livability of Northern Cities in Winter.
The Ororo (picture above) with heat in the chest, upper back, and arms, is one of the more affordable e-jackets, $140 at Amazon.
That price is half what they cost six years ago, but these can get even cheaper, and the City can help with financing plans (such as underwriting zero-interest financing, and paying the first months payment) for any residents with limited income.
We feel a good Winter jacket is as important as electricity in the home in cities like Detroit. We need to make them accessible to everyone, and we sorely need to improve their design.
Here are ten things we'd like to see in a Better, Cheaper Heated Winter Jacket:
1. More insulation, to make the jacket poofier and lighter, and to allow less batteries for all-day heating. Patagonia's nano fiber insulation is incredibly light, and very few heated jackets are well insulated today. That makes them too heavy, with more batteries than they need. No one wants to wear a heavy jacket all day long.
2. Heating in the hood, on both sides and in the back and a draw closure for the hood, with a mask pocket for the really frigid days. A hood like this will keep a residents face warm most of the time even without a mask, even in wind. That allows us to see each others faces again, and makes the city far more friendly in winter. The hood heating elements won't come on automatically, unlike the rest of the jacket, to save energy. They are controlled by a visible button on the jacket, so the user can easily see when its on, if the hood is hanging down behind the user's head. They can then turn it off to save power.
3. Heated pockets, so we can quickly get our hands warm again if we have take our gloves off and our hands got cold.
4 The jacket should be Trench design, longer at the front than almost all heated jackets today, going down nearer to the knees, to keep folks warm even if they don't want to wear warm pants, as many folks don't. Shorter versions of the jacket can come later. We want to start with the best solution for the most people, in a cold Winter place like Detroit.
5. Big Glove pockets on the front, with elastic closures, not buttons or velcro, so we can easily access and store our long gloves. Quick elastic closures and a trench jacket design, make it easy to take long gloves off, store them, and get them back on again in seconds. Heated pockets (separate from glove pockets) give you more free hand time than ever, even on super cold, windy days. A magnetic dock in the glove pockets allows the gloves to inductively charge, without ever plugging them in.
6. A thermostat (temperature sensor and control loop) in the jacket, so users won't have to fiddle with the jacket's heating controls when we go into and out of buildings. Today's jackets could easily sense the temperature and give the right amount of heat for all conditions, taking away the stress of fiddling with the heating buttons, which the resident should have but will rarely use.
7. A lot of small batteries in series, distributed around the bottom of the jacket, rather than one big battery. Almost all heated jackets today use one big, bulky battery that pinches your back when you sit down or drive. Batteries in series at the bottom of the jacket will never pinch you, will keep the jacket well balanced and hanging well, and the wiring does not add very much weight, as the wire connectors are short (series) not long (parallel).
8. An inductive charging ring, and a wall mounted charger, so you can just hang the jacket up at work or by the front door at home and it will almost always be fully charged and ready to keep you warm all day outside. Our electric toothbrushes have inductive charging (a small ring and nub system, at the bottom of the toothbrush). It is easy to add that to a jacket, on a small flap at the back of the neck. The jacket user will then not even have to fiddle with plugging in the jacket at night (very helpful for those with limited mobility and vision). Add small and *permanently on* LED lights to the jacket to tell the user its charge status and they'll get peace of mind whenever they look at their jacket, never wasting time to see if its charged (no heated jacket does this yet). Almost all heated jackets today still require their users to take out a single, big battery, and put it in a charger to charge it at night. That is super disrespectful of people's limited time and energy.
9. A USB port and some good pockets on the jacket, so the user can keep their phones and other devices charged, and so they can recharge their jacket using their car's USB when they are driving.
10. With a charging dongle at the back of the jacket, you can attach it to your Pedelec Trike (see link below for another of our idea submissions) so it will recharge your jacket while riding (See https://challenges.cityoftomorrow.com/challenge/detroit/explore/shared-pedelec-trikes
We haven't submitted our other MCS winter mobility ideas like these Pedelec Trikes, as we think this heated jacket is more fundamental. It makes all outdoor mobility (trikes, bikes, scooters, walking, etc.) easier for Detroiters to do in winter.
There are a small number of startups with heated jackets on Kickstarter today, but no one has yet developed a product with more than two of the above features, or figured out how to produce it and/or finance their jackets affordably for those with limited income, so that everyone can have better Winter mobility.
Intellectual Property Strategy
We plan to make this jacket at Ann Arbor and Detroit maker works, and to include the local maker spaces, hacker spaces, and design colleges in the request for volunteers to critique the design and make the prototype. We'll publish what we did on the web, so that it is Public Prior Art, and difficult for anyone to try to patent. Such open source design is a well-known catalyst of innovation, for all low cost innovation like this, as it makes it easy for a maximum number of companies to make product, and the maximum competition to drive down price (including inevitable competition from Asian and European manufacturers). We believe in American innovation and enterprise, but we aren't afraid of global competition.
We will not include a thermostat (Item 6), in the initial prototype, as that will require automotive safety grade testing, which could easily triple our requested budget. Everything else above we can do in the $6500 + $50K budget listed below.
Once the specs for a prototype have been published online, one or two prototypes have been produced and put through real-world use tests, and a few (10-20) diverse MCS user experiences have been collected and published, this seems to be a good end point for the project.
At that point, the very large size (likely several hundred million dollars a year) of the total addressable market (TAM) for this product, and the interest level of customers (early adopters al the way to laggards) will be quite easy for any project manager at the existing jacket makers to estimate, once they look at the website, and for any entrepreneur to gauge and pitch to VCs.
A good example of this "prototype influence effect" is eSurf of Sweden. For two years now they've been demonstrating the future of electric surfboards, with just a couple of built prototypes and a few demo videos. Everyone in the industry knows their carbon fiber boards, very small design, and ability to tow divers underwater is where the best e-surfboards must go next, since they demoed their breakthrough design, even though they haven't gone into production yet. See their demo videos at https://www.esurf.com/ or on YouTube (http://jetsurfingnation.com/) All the production leaders in this space, like JetSurf, are now pivoting to this new very lightweight, super powerful, submersible design. That's what great design demos can do, they can spur game-changing innovation.
If no current manufacturer goes into this Next Gen Jacket space after our project results are published, we believe some startup likely will, as there are already several (not very good) such startups on Kickstarter already. We'll then see a virtuous cycle of better jackets getting produced, and getting cheaper (typically by 10-18% per year) with every cumulative doubling of their sales, making them progressively more affordable.
Manufacturing industries call this the Experience Curve (it is actually a Power Law) of Production, and it occurs in all industries that have real competition as production scales. The hard thing in many cases is to get a minimum feature set so desirable that the product will start scaling on its own, by word of mouth.
That hasn't happened yet for heated jackets in Northern Cities, but we believe this project, and a small number of MCS residents use of the first prototypes, documented on the web, can make that happen, and the Winter will forever after be a warmer place.