This Ugly Christmas Sweater Was Designed by a Rocket Scientist

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 2 2013 4:39 PM

This Ugly Christmas Sweater Was Designed by a Rocket Scientist

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to design an ugly Christmas sweater. But apparently it doesn’t hurt.

Mark Rober, a former engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, quit his day job six months ago after scoring a YouTube hit with a Halloween costume that makes it look like you have a bloody, gaping hole in your chest. Now he designs silly smartphone-enhanced costumes full-time.

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His latest efforts make use of a free Android and iPhone app to reinvigorate the tired ugly-Christmas-sweater genre. Download the app, slip your smartphone in the Velcro pouch, and then just stand back smugly sipping your eggnog as the plaudits roll in.

“It just blows people’s minds,” Rober told me in a phone interview, “because for thousands of years clothing has been static. It doesn’t move. And then when it does, people are like, ‘What kind of sorcery is that?’ And then you explain that it’s a phone and they’re like, ‘Oh. Yeah.’”

So the technology behind the shirt isn’t exactly rocket science. But Rober says that may be part of its appeal. “Wearable tech is really exploding, and I feel like five years down the road tech is going to be totally in our clothing. It’s the next frontier for tech to conquer in our lives. But we’re not there yet. I’m not saying putting a smartphone in your sweater or shirt is the best solution, but at least it’s a stepping stone. And I think it resonates partly because it’s kind of obvious, and it makes people go, ‘Aw, why didn’t I think of that?’ ”

The sweaters start at $54.95 on Morphsuits.com, and you can see more of Rober’s work here.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.