Is the World Ready for ‘Smart’ Uniforms?

We live in a world that is technologically ‘smart’, don’t we? We all carry smartphones. Many of us drive cars with smart information and entertainment systems. Some of us have smart refrigerators capable of automatically generating shopping lists and sending them to our phones. With all this smartness around us, it was only a matter of time before someone came up with smart uniforms for school children.

That’s right, smart uniforms are now being utilized in a handful of Chinese schools. An article appearing in Fast Company in late December (2018) described the uniform experiment in Guizhou province and likened it to what was described in Pink Floyd’s 1979 hit, ‘Another Brick in the Wall’.

The question to ask is this: is the world ready for smart uniforms of any kind? Maybe, or maybe not. The thought of walking around in articles of clothing containing all sorts of technology capable of monitoring every word and action is a little scary.

China’s Smart School Uniforms

Fast Company’s Melissa Locker explains that the Chinese school uniforms are equipped with a number of technologies, starting with GPS tracking. It would appear as though the intent here is to keep track of students who would otherwise attempt to skip class.

Also built-into the uniforms are sensors that will sound an alarm if a student attempts to leave school grounds or falls asleep while in class. Parents can monitor the activities of the children, including keeping track of anything they purchase while at school. Uniform jackets are even equipped with facial recognition technology to prevent students from getting around parental controls by swapping jackets.

Most disturbing is the fact that school officials can use the uniforms to track students outside of normal school hours. They claim to not use that portion of the technology, but it still exists, nonetheless. For their part, the Chinese government insists that tracking students with smart uniforms is part of a larger push to develop fully smart school campuses allegedly intended to enhance student learning and performance.

Not Limited to School Uniforms

As alarming as it might sound, the kind of technology being introduced to school uniforms in China is neither new nor limited to school uniforms themselves. The technology can be applied to virtually any kind of clothing, explains Salt Lake City-based Alsco.

For example, military uniforms are already being fitted with RFID and GPS technology for tracking purposes. Pro football players in at least one league are already wearing uniforms equipped with sensors that enable computers to track all sorts of real-time statistics during play.

The point here is that the technology to track movements and actions already exists. Furthermore, it has existed for quite some time now. It is only now that the technology is making its way into certain areas that used to be deemed as off-limits to tracking – like schools and uniforms.

The Evolution of the Modern Uniform

It used to be that uniforms were largely for identification and protection purposes. But things are changing along with modern technology. That could be good or bad depending on your view of the matter. One thing is for certain though, China’s smart uniforms are not likely to remain within the country’s borders.

It is only a matter of time before smart uniforms start showing up in other parts of the world. We already have kids relying on school-issued tablets and laptops (both are trackable) to get their work done. Adding smart uniforms to the equation is just the next logical step.

Are we ready for it? That’s up to us to decide.

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