Shirt, how do I feel?

It seems that every day I am coming across exciting new and emerging technologies: maybe it’s just the blogs I like to read, but its breath taking to think we are living at a time when it seems like anything is possible. One area that seems bursting with potential is the field of ‘smart textiles’. These textiles, which have functionalised fibres and sensors woven into or part of the fabric, can sense and respond to their surroundings. There are numerous products out there where they have been used in clothing and other textile products. 

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Take for example force sensing materials, such as QTC Material by Peratech, which allows the textile to act as a switch. Applying force to the fabric switches it from the ‘off’ to the ‘on’ state. Some of the suggested applications are to integrate switches into jacket sleeves, or foldable keyboards. In fact, if anyone ever needed to have a keyboard on the sleeve of their jacket, the technology is ready to go!

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Though not a wearable fabric, Phillips has developed a luminous textile with integrated LED lights that can play a range of standard or custom content. It’s marketed as being able to ‘express emotion and mood’ through dynamic lighting, so maybe it’s not too far in the future before we see clothing that  can sense and express our mood. Maybe it would be helpful to see that your colleague is having a bad day by the way their shirt is flashing red? It might even be useful for those of us who have trouble working out exactly how we feel sometimes... our mood sensing clothing could just confirm it for us!

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Konarka have developed ‘Power plastic’, which are photovoltaic solar panels that are lightweight, flexible and thin. One application is to provide portable power, if they are imbedded in say the outside of a computer bag or the face of a tent. Maybe one day our clothing will help us charge our devices; rather than plugging them into a fixed power point, we can plug them into the sleeve of our garments whilst we are on the go.

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There is also the SmartLife ‘HealthVest’, which is a shirt embedded with multiple sensors, that allow it to continuously register and record biological signals like heart rate, respiration rate and temperature, all whilst allowing the wearer full mobility. The advantage of this in the medical, sporting, military and emergency services fields is obvious, where accurate and continuous information about the wearer can be relayed to doctors, trainers or superiors. It is fun to think about where future developments of these technologies will go. Imagine their application in child care for example; parent’s could use it to see how their kids are doing throughout the day whilst they are at childcare: kids could be given a wrist band that measures their biological markers and is fitted with a gps; a user friendly interface could let parents know exactly where their child is and correlate it to their biological rhythms: did the child sleep soundly... play actively... get agitated? Whether parents would actually want to know all this information about their child when away from them is another thing!

What do you think... what would you like to see done with this technology? 

January 8, 2013

by Meriam Salama
in News