Advances in textile technology, computer engineering and
materials science are promoting a new breed of functional fabrics resulting in
some truly smart and clever clothing. Realization of this vision could be
possible with the advent of wearable electronic textiles, where functionality
is incorporated into the fabric. Clothing is being developed for protection from chemical, biological and nuclear threats. Besides, with the development of
polymers with exotic qualities in terms of their mechanical, electrical and
magnetic properties, scientists are ready to design electronic clothing with
various specialties like heating, cooling, illuminating of body etc. Fashion
designers are adding wires, circuits, and optical fibers to traditional textiles,
creating garments that glow in the dark or keep the wearer warm.
Meanwhile, electronics engineers are sewing conductive
threads and sensors into body suits that can map users whereabouts and respond
to environmental stimuli. Researchers agree that the development of genuinely
interactive electronic textiles is technically possible, and that challenges in
scaling up the handmade garments will eventually be overcome. Ideas include the
development of jacket-sleeve keypads for controlling cell phones, pagers, or
MP3 players, and sportswear with integral fabric sensors and display panels,
ideas for monitoring heart rate and blood pressure during a gym workout or
morning run. Clothing fitted with textile global positioning system technology
could also be suitable for locating skiers or Mountaineers in bad weathers or
even for keeping a watch on young children.
Advances so far
Adopting electronic displays (LEDs) technologies to create
colorful, novelty clothing items for example, glow-in-the-dark bridal gown,
sparkling cocktail dresses, and costumes for opera singer. Further progress is expected in the form of tailor-made clothing.
- Fibers powered by tiny, rechargeable batteries that are
turned on by the wearer via a hidden switch causing the fibers to give
shininess when the lights are dimmed.
- Development of a flexible, battery-powered
optical fiber screen that can be woven into clothing. A prototype version integrated into a jacked displaying symbols is already in the market and more
sophisticated versions may support advertising slogans, safety notices, or
simply a range of different geometric patterns can be switched on and off.
- Production of low-cost jackets for joggers and
walkers with a pulse monitor stitched to the left cuff. Embedded sensors
control conductive material on the back of the jacket to keep the wearer
warm should the temperature drop, while electroluminescent wires are fixed
to pockets and hems to light up in the dark as a safety feature.
The marriage of woven fabric with electronics is finding
favor in the world of interior design as well inform of electro-textile wall
panels. The panel exploits reflective coloring. The fabric contains interwoven
stainless steel yarns, painted with thermo-chromic inks, which are connected to
drive electronics programmed to change color in response to heat from the conducting
wires. At the outset, main users are going to be medical, military, and
industrial areas with compelling applications and affordability. The simulation
environment is already being used to model a garment that can sense its own
shape thus helping patients to learn about their exercise requirement. Creating
a wearable version of a giant textile sensornet designed to detect noise.
It is envisaged that efforts should be to stay as close as
possible to conventional large-scale cutting and sewing techniques when
thinking about how electronic textile clothing could be made. Cutting
electronic cloth clearly makes it more difficult to make good connections between
different parts of the same garments and one solution to it could be the manufacturing
of seamless clothing, which would avoid the cutting and stitching problem altogether. The cost of developing and manufacturing such sophisticated fabrics is
likely to put them beyond the reach of the fashion industry for the time being.
Connections will be main point of weakness in electronic clothing. Moreover,
researchers have yet to answer the million-dollar question, perhaps critical to
consumer acceptance, about the washing of electronic fabrics. The challenge for
industry is also to build in the security and privacy for the user of
electronic clothing from hackers. Whatever the technical obstacles, researchers
involved in the development of interactive electronic clothing appear
universally confident that context-aware coast and sensory shirts are only a
matter of time.