In design products for the body, the millimetric definition of volumes and shapes plays a central role. When protection is added, a singular meeting of anatomy and performance comes into play. If you then focus on innovation, the surprises are continuous, as in the case of D-Air Lab.
The firm was founded in 2015 as an offshoot of Dainese to devise, develop and produce smart garments for a broad public. The starting point was the experience gained in motorcycle GP and ski racing, where the Vicenza-based company has experimented with all types of protective components for every part of the body at risk of fracture, from the feet to the hands and from the spine to the head. If at first the right approach clearly seemed to point towards rigid elements inspired by exoskeletons, over the years it has moved forward to creating veritable airbags for the body.
The key step towards creation of the D-Air world was taken in the early 2000s, through collaboration with Merhav A.A.P., an Israeli firm that supplies technologies with a military origin. Equally important is the algorithm that activates the airbag, developed since 2004 in collaboration with Professor Vittore Cossalter of the University of Padua. The first airbags were intended for motorcyclists and were built into the helmet, but a more practical solution involved integrating them with clothing. Underlying this system is a design that makes it possible to control with extreme accuracy the shape of the airbags and the direction in which they inflate.
The design of air
Since they are activated within a few thousandths of a second, to avoid the potentially very serious dangerous of compression of the limbs, the airbags take a predefined shape through a complex system of internal microfilaments, an architecture that ensures the air is distributed instantaneously and uniformly. The “design of air” still remains central to D-Air Lab’s work, but it is increasingly being integrated with other technologies capable of guaranteeing physical protection and personal safety. This means its applications cover a wide range and the D-Air Lab research center is experimenting with different ones, for protection in everyday life from decidedly rarer events.
From world of work to haute couture
The world of work was the recipient of one of its first products, WorkAir, an airbag for anyone working at height. Housed inside a lightweight vest, it is the first airbag in the world certified as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for fall protection. WorkAir is already used by the employees of the Enel energy company, but its uses extend to gardeners, librarians and anyone who has to operate a few meters above the ground. The versatility of these airbags can even become an aesthetic device, as shown by the presence of D-Air Lab in Maison Dior’s F/W 22/23 collection. The company’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri opened the show with airbags worn to symbolize strength and resilience, but also to give volume to the classic Bar jackets without using stays or crinolines. In addition, it featured both motorcycle gloves and ankle straps derived from the anti-sprain bands used by sports stars.
Dior has also asked D-Air Lab to create a jacket based on Antarctic Resolution technology, the suits for Antarctic explorers already seen at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale. This project integrates the study of air flows with systems capable of ensuring protection from cold up to -89° Celsius and winds of over 320 km/h in a garment consisting of just two layered elements. The first, adhering to the body, provides monitoring, warmth and ventilation; the second, the outer layer, looks like a waterproof shell padded with layers of silk, graphene and camel hair, in a singular dialogue between the animal and mineral kingdoms. “It’s a suit that becomes a home,” says Alberto Piovesan, the company’s creative director, “where technology and architecture engage in a dialogue.”
Apart from extreme situations, everyday life is at the heart of D-Air Lab’s thinking, even when airbags are not required. D-One is a lightweight vest that becomes a personal alarm. In the event of an accident on a bike, in the mountains or even during sports in the city, flashing sounds and lights can be activated and an SMS with GPS coordinates is sent to the emergency services. In addition, the alarm is triggered automatically if the algorithm recognizes prolonged immobility, for example in the event of illness. Recently D-One has been adopted by the Clinical Center of Sant’Orsola and the Bologna healthcare authority to protect health workers who operate alone. In case of suspected aggression, it alerts the police or the hospital’s security staff.
Thought and innovation
A very recent development of airbag technology finds its expression in Future Age, a belt designed to protect those with walking problems from falls. It is intended for the elderly or those at risk of falling in the home, and in this case the airbags – placed one on each side and individually operated – act to protect the hips and the head of the femur. This all goes to show that intelligence in the service of garments and accessories, when combined with thought and innovation, can really improve the quality of life.