"Alexa, turn on my jacket."
When the temperature is 30 degrees below zero or colder--as it is expected to be in many parts of the U.S. this week--that phrase might not sound so absurd. At least that's the hope of Ministry of Supply: The Boston-based startup is taking on the polar vortex with the Mercury, a new self-heating jacket you can activate using Amazon's A.I. assistant.
The product is a ventilated-yet-warm sleek black jacket with no external frills. But inside it is equipped with three internal heaters, which are attached to internal and external temperature sensors that control when the heaters should kick on. The sensors pair with an accelerometer, which determines whether additional heat is necessary (yes, if you're standing at the bus stop; no, if you're running for the bus). The whole thing is powered by a USB battery pack, and pairs to an app--which can be paired with Alexa.
The Mercury ($495) has been sold out for much of the past three months, after initially being available exclusively to the Kickstarter backers who helped jump-start its production with more than $600,000. (According to the Kickstarter page, the jacket is best used when in full-heat mode in temperatures between zero and 30 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Ministry of Supply was founded in 2012 by four MIT students with a vision for creating high-tech clothing for everyday use. Its name comes from the British government department that employed Charles Fraser-Smith, who is considered the inspiration for Q, the James Bond character who provides 007 with his amazing gadgets. "We like to think of ourselves as the geeks in the lab developing clothes for people on a mission," says co-founder Gihan Amarasiriwardena.
Along with Aman Advani, who was in business school at MIT, and two other students, Amarasiriwardena launched Ministry of Supply via a Kickstarter campaign for a wrinkle-resistant performance dress shirt called the Apollo. They aimed to raise $30,000, but ended up topping $400,000.
The shirt was firmly in the new "workleisure" category of performance workwear, but over the years, the company has expanded to 3-D-printed clothing, using NASA-inspired fabrics that regulate heat, and employing machine learning to create garments. The company's tagline is "scientifically better clothes."
"We have taken all this information that your body casts off from biometrics, but also have learned through field testing and an iterative design process," Advani says. The Mercury jacket, which lets wearers speak to engage their mobile personal temperature-control systems, is a fitting next step. And given the weather forecast, it's just in time.