smart textiles

luminex sportsbraDespite the allure of flashing lights, one of the most interesting aspects of wearable technology is the innovation going on at the material level. Smart textiles will transform the way we think of clothes, what they do and what they are.
Textiles will change everything. For example, one of the main hurdles for 3D printed clothes is that 3D printers right now are having a hard time creating a material that is a thin and supple as wool — so printing clothing has to wait for appropriate materials to be developed. While wearable electronics are gaining in popularity, tons of research is going on to ensure that wearable electronics are more than just shirts with gadgets stuck to them.
A few of the intriguing areas of research are textiles that plug clothing into the larger Internet of Things, textiles that turn clothing into power sources, and, perhaps most interesting, textiles that use new technologies to mimic the natural world.
Clothing already communicates. It communicates who we are, who we want to be perceived as being, our group affiliations. But down the line there’s a strong possibility that our clothing (or some people’s clothing, at least) will communicate with its surrounding environment. According to Tom Martin, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and co-director of the E-Textiles Lab at Virginia Tech,
“The most exciting development is the potential for textiles to sense and respond to their environments and situations,” Martin says. “In particular, integrating sensors and computational devices into fabrics will enable the fabrics to provide a much richer set of capabilities than is currently possible. These electronic textiles (e-textiles) will allow us to build smart garments, as well as home and office furnishings that look and feel like their everyday counterparts while being able to sense our presence, monitor our health, and dynamically adapt to our individual needs.”
One example of this are textile sensors developed by researchers at the University of Arkansas, which monitor wearers’ cardiac signs and communicate them to doctors and hospitals, no matter the location. Sports brands are leading the way in mainstreaming this tech. Stella McCartney’s Performance Sports Bra, designed for Adidas, uses “conductive sensing fibers” to monitor runners’ biorhythms. After the success of Nike+, sports brands have been quick to get into quantified-self products, and are the first to really be promoting smart textiles.
The quantified self is great, but what’s really interesting is products like this bracelet, which control a building’s environmental conditions. Clothing that does this is probably really far down the line, but will be fascinating in the ways it blurs the line between the individual and space, surface and surrounding, etc.


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