Imagine a planet with an environment so harsh that humans wear climate-controlled suits to get around.
Now imagine that planet is Earth.
There's little doubt our home world is taking a turn for the torrid, making it harder and harder to live here.
"Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth's surface than any preceding decade since 1850," notes a landmark 2013 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
And there's no doubt heat kills. Every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 600 people die in the U.S. alone from severe heat.
It's no wonder we spend so much of our summers huddled in our climate-controlled colonies — offices and homes where we can breathe a little easier. And ironically, that reliance on air conditioning — and the fossil fuel plants that power it — only heats up our atmosphere more.
But we do have to go outside sometimes. Only soon, we may have to suit up for it.
Fortunately, the designs for wearable air conditioning — yes, companies are already developing the technology — don't suggest we'll be waddling around in Apollo 11-style moon suits.
Instead, the focus is more on wearables. Sony, for example, crowdfunded a device that fits seamlessly under clothes to cool the skin.
Called the Reon Pocket, this little battery-powered dynamo presses up against the neck, while tapping into the Peltier effect — which was first noted by French physicist Jean C. A. Peltier, back in the 1830s. The Petlier effect occurs when an electric current flows across a junction of two different conductors. One side heats up, while the other cools down.
Think of it like an ice cube pressed up against the skin; or reversed, a hot pocket.
There are no moving parts or fluids swimming through tubes. But it does require a battery. The Reon Pocket reportedly lasts for just under two hours before it needs a charge — hopefully, enough to allow for scampering from one air-conditioned building to another.
And, as with all things battery-operated, we can likely expect advances in that technology should we have to endure an entire summer day outside, heaven forbid.
Other devices, like already available Embr Wave, don't target the body so much as the mind. The device, developed by MIT scientists, doesn't lower body temperature at all. Rather, it tricks us into thinking we're cooler.
"What it does is it heats and cools one spot on your body and helps you improve your comfort, without changing your core temp," Embr Labs co-founder Sam Shames explains to Digital Trends.
"It's kind of similar to cupping your hands around a hot mug of coffee in the winter after you've come in from being outside in the cold, or dipping your toes in the ocean on a hot summer day."
Indeed, a study from UC Berkeley's Center for the Built Environment found that people feel as much as 5 degrees cooler with an Embr Wave strapped on.
You can see how the device works in the video below:
The psychological angle may be the most environmentally-friendly approach to wearable air conditioning — even if it doesn't necessarily save lives.
Imagine running around during a heat wave telling everyone how great you feel — until you pass out. But devices like the Embr Wave may have the simplest solution to the problem of how awful humidity makes us feel.
Perhaps more importantly, personal air conditioning — regardless of the technology behind it — is significantly more efficient than traditional building units. We may finally ease up on the monolithic system of compressors, condensers and refrigerants typically set too cold for many in the office.
Targeting a very specific area — your body, rather than the space around you — wearables sip so little energy, we may even slip into them at home. And maybe, finally, give our planet a reason to breathe a little easier.