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Wearable Tech

Team USA's 2018 Winter Olympics jacket is some toasty tech

Ralph Lauren's 2018 Olympic opening ceremony jackets sold out in minutes, but their conductive ink technology may be added to future clothing. We tried one on.

The coolest thing about Ralph Lauren's heated jacket technology is, well… it doesn't feel like tech.

It doesn't beep or light up. There's no buzzing or distracting alerts. It doesn't even feel like you're wearing a gadget. It's just smarts woven into your clothes.

polo-flag

The heated panel is made up of conductive inks, bonded to the inside lining on the back of the jacket. It's thin and flexible, and can be crumpled and washed.

Ariel Nunez/CNET

This battery-powered parka is part of the parade uniform for Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics opening ceremony. It's the first time Team USA will have a heated jacket as part of the ensemble.

The limited-edition jacket is sold out, but the company is planning to use this again in the future -- so pay attention. Feedback from the American athletes will determine how this clothing design evolves into other products, as it's put to the test in the frigid temperatures of Pyeongchang, South Korea.

I got a rare chance to check out the toasty tech for myself at the Polo Ralph Lauren store here in New York.

Now playing: Watch this: The tech behind Team USA's toasty Opening Ceremony jacket
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What surprised me was how the heating system felt like any slick jacket liner. I could crumple the fabric in my fist, and it felt like a plastic sticker decal.

That's because the tech is, put simply, ink. Designed in the shape of an American flag, the heat comes through conductive carbon and silver inks electronically printed on a panel that's bonded to the interior of the jacket. The panel itself is about the size of both my hands put together, under a foot long.

Of course, it needs power. Hidden beneath the jacket's puffy padding is a thin power cord that starts at the panel and snakes its way down to the right-side front pocket. Open the pocket, and you'll find a wad of cords and a removable, rechargeable battery pack emblazoned with the Polo logo.

The battery pack has a big, glove-friendly button to toggle between high and low heat settings.

Ariel Nunez / CNET

The battery pack controls the heat settings with two simple buttons. One turns it on, the other is a large, glove-friendly button to toggle between low and high heat.

And yes, the jacket can be washed if you're gentle. (I would just be careful about that power cord.)

Cranking it up to max, the jacket warmed up quickly -- but subtly. It wasn't jarring. Nor did I ever feel a big, hot rectangle on my back. On a short trip outside the store, it made the rainy 34-degree slush outside a little more tolerable.

The jacket and all its gadgetry is made in the United States (USA! USA!). It has been in development for over a year, according to David Lauren, chief innovation officer and son of designer Ralph.

The company dresses over 700 Team USA Olympic and Paralympic athletes, coaches and staff, each one given a limited-edition heated parka for the opening ceremony and a heated bomber jacket for the closing ceremony. 

Athletes are supported financially through the sale of Ralph Lauren apparel. But as for the heated jackets, fewer than 100 were released to stores, each costing $2,495 a piece -- and all sold out in under 20 minutes. (They're listed for $7,000 on eBay right now.) That got the company encouraged to look into using this for future apparel.

"There's a customer demand, so now let's bring it to market in a new way -- maybe for next winter," David Lauren said in a phone interview.

Lauren says he wants to see the next iteration of this technology to use smaller battery packs and controls tied to an app.

This isn't the first wearable tech from the designer. For the 2014 US Open, the company debuted a fitness shirt with biometric sensors that monitor heart rate, calories burned, respiration, stress levels and energy output. The data was fed to an iOS app that guided tennis players to adjust their training and exertion.

Lauren says the challenge with wearables in fashion has been incorporating technology that consumers actually need -- and making sure it won't go out of style.

"In 20 years, when the technology is outdated," Lauren says, "you still want it to be a great jacket to wear."

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