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Wearable Tech

Yes, there's an Alexa-connected heated jacket

Ministry of Supply's thermostat-equipped Mercury Intelligent Heated Jacket promises to be ready by next winter. Here's what it's like to wear.

Sarah Tew/CNET

"Alexa, turn on my jacket."

I've never felt the need to say that, but sure enough, as I test it, my jacket's app turns on. It's starting to heat up.

Ministry of Supply is a Boston-based apparel company, founded by three people who met at MIT and pursued more advanced material design in their products. I've never worn their clothing before, but examples include stretchy performance shirts and pants, 3D-printed fabrics and "phase change" materials that store and release heat.

The company's first piece of wearable tech (that uses electricity) is this jacket, which has carbon fiber wires running up its back and sleeves to heat it for all-weather wear, like a futuristic electric blanket. We've seen heated Olympic jackets, and connected jackets like Google and Levi's Commuter jacket which had touch-sensitive fabric. This is different: it's a heat-regulated jacket that's designed to be automatic. I wore a test model with Ministry of Supply cofounder and president Gihan Amarasiriwardena to see what it was like.

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Basically, it's a heated jacket with a thermostat inside, and it's able to link up to Alexa by using an Alexa skill that runs on an Amazon Echo (or whatever Alexa device you may have). No, the jacket doesn't have Alexa onboard.

The jacket heats up with the help of a removable standard 10,000 mAh battery, which comes with it (you could BYO battery, too). A USB plug in the pocket powers the coat for about four hours straight, or up to a week if the company's promise of machine learning holds true.

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Wearing the jacket, and controlling it via the phone app (which you don't need to do much, as it'll regulate automatically over time).

Sarah Tew/CNET

There's more tech, too -- internal and external temperature sensors and an accelerometer are embedded inside. The jacket's motion and temperature sensors will auto adjust the heating depending on your environment. An Android and iOS phone app has three heating settings (low, medium, high), but Amarasiriwardena promises me that I won't need to adjust much when I wear one: The app will learn your preferences over time using machine learning.

Speaking of which, when would I wear one? This jacket is stretchy, pretty comfy (I was wearing the wrong size that was way too small, so I couldn't judge it all that well) and waterproof, with a removable hood. But my coat already keeps me warm. Maybe a heated coat would keep me warmer?

Standing in February weather at a New York City street corner, it was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 degrees Celsius). But thanks to the Ministry jacket, I could feel gentle heat at my back, and nicely warmed pockets.

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Oh, just powering up my jacket (the USB plug is sewn in, and apparently can survive machine washing?)

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Alexa-connected feature just turns the jacket on and off, so in theory you'd just need to say "turn my jacket on" as you're leaving your home and then never worry about it again. (To turn it off when you're at your destination, which won't have your Amazon Echo, there's a large power button on the inside of the jacket). Amarasiriwardena says he's looking into other Alexa-connected features down the road. What they would be, I don't know. Siri and Google skills might be added down the road.

The jacket is also machine washable, even with the sewn-in USB plug. Amarasiriwardena recommends a cold wash cycle, and drying at no more than medium heat. Dry cleaning sounds like it's out of the question. But its lining is infused with coffee grounds, which the company says will prevent odors. (Yes, coffee grounds are well-rounded.)

At around $300 for its Kickstarter pricing (converts to AU$380, £215), it's not much more than a fancy coat would already cost (the vest costs $195). The jacket's apparently hitting Kickstarter first so that Ministry of Supply -- a store that already has several physical locations in Boston -- can get a sense of how many to make, according to Amarasiriwardena. The jacket will be manufactured sometime around November, when the weather will get cold again. I hope to give it another wear then.