Optical fibres and LEDs technology applicable now in the textile industry has paved the way for commercial production for light emitting fabrics with an impressive start. Research has led the integration of optical fibres with textiles resulting in the manufacture flexible LED arrays and light-emitting fabrics. The optical fibres are used in place of some of the normal thread weave, which meet at one end of the fabric in a form of bundle and then get illuminated uniformly. A reflective coating applied on the non-illuminated surface enhances the uniformity and intensity of light. Thus, these illuminative textiles are fast being incorporated into furnishing, footwear, and apparel industry by a number of big brands.
Lumalive technology made Philips a market leader
The fabric was introduced by Philips in the market in the form of jackets and furniture in 2006 at Internationale Funkausstellung consumer-electronics show (Sept. 1-6, Berlin, Germany).
Philips Research (Eindhoven, Netherlands) announced that they had integrated flexible arrays of multicolored LEDs into fabrics, plastics, and films. The softness of the fabric is maintained even with the LED arrays. Layers of translucent textiles cover the LED panel to diffuse the light so that the pixels flow smoothly into each other and also provide the required level of softness and surface texture. Integrated electronics drives the LEDs to create fixed or moving patterns of light that bring the magic of illumination to the textiles. The displays electronics, batteries, and LED arrays are fully integrated and invisible to the observer and wearer. The first production-ready cloth displays contained 14x14 arrays of red-green-blue LEDs and were 200x200 mm2 in size, although the areas covered are now more extensive. It enabled the Lumalive technology to be incorporated for commercial usage and Philips worked aggressively for its promotional activities through live demonstrations and reaching out to companies all over Europe, interested in the innovative ideology.
The light-emitting textile designs have also been developed by the Project for the nomadic Huichol (Wirrárica) people of the remote Mexican Sierra Madre Mountains, who do not have access to electric light or power.
Light emitting fabrics becomes multi-functional& userfriendly
Besides these innovations being novel, they have opened up a wide range of applications in the clothing, furnishing, lighting, communication, and personal health care segments. Application of the light emitting fabric was more emphatically used in clothes meant for promotional events, stage (dance)/ramp walk, workplaces (for safety and increased visibility), sports and health related. The future ramp models could mesmerize the audience with the myriad of colors and patterns. Personal safety for night joggers and outdoor sportsmen has a key advantage in the usage of illuminated clothes. Visibility for runners in low light condition and at night present a safety concern which is addressed by various reflective add-on strips and jackets or shoes. Advertising industry could also get a boost with these fabrics, to display information or logos. Clothing with the names of favorite pop or sports stars, could bring a whole new dimension to text and multi-media messaging. They will also add a new creative dimension to the performing arts. The Bili-Blanket has also been launched, which can treat jaundice in newborn babies, has the light emitting fibres.
The products have been made user-friendly as they include features that make them practical for daily use. The batteries and electronic parts of the clothing can be simply disconnected before washing them. Even the light-emitting layer can be easily removed and refitted to the garment. Such type of textiles can also be made interactive. Philips has achieved interactivity by incorporating sensors (such as orientation and pressure sensors) and communication devices (such as Bluetooth, GSM) into the fabric.
The industry is at the nascent stage, yet apparel brands see the potential of light emitting textiles to revolutionize the very concept of fabric. Ohmatex, a Danish firm and the European Union is backing 12 partners in five countries to develop innovative light textiles. LumiGram has recently designed a collection of illuminated tops using Italians Luminex light emitting fabric which is vibrant and subtle. The collection is called LumiTops. Similarly Retroreflector jacket, Nike's Glow in the Dark Shoes and City Pillows created by Florence Bost, founder of Sable Chaud, have used LEDs and EL-wires to blend in with colorful designs to make unique products. Enlightened company now offers a new line called Power Ties. The company, founded by Janet Cooke, specializes in light emitting apparels. This particular tie has a circuit board design and features various lighting patterns. The tie costs about $60. Also in the pipeline are dazzling light up bra.
Nikes launch of the arm band has proved very comfortable and effective product in the market for runners. Called the Electrolite Arm Band it combines soft light embedded into an Arm Band to increase the visibility and safety at night while running.
Other companies developing and incorporating the light emitting technology into their products include Peratech, Fibretronic, and Gorix, all from the UK and US-based Motorola, Finland's Nokia and Germany-based Infineon Technologies. Peratech, which focuses on wearable technology, introduced the completely washable five-button keypad integrated into O'Neill's ski jackets. The technology is based on a proprietary conductive polymer comprised of a mixture of silicon and metal particles. Italy's Smartex and Finnish firm Clothing+ are among the other entrants in this industry. Clothing+ manufactures the AdiStar Fusion running shirt from Adidas that incorporates soft textile heart rate sensors in the fabric.
Fabric Displays Using PLEDs
A further plunge in the innovative technology is the fabric using PLEDs. PLED stands for polymer light emitting diode, which is a technology used in backlighting, illumination and electronic displays. Unlike LEDs, which are small bulbs, a PLED display is a thin, flexible film made of polymers and capable of emitting the full color spectrum of light.
A PLED is constructed of several layers, a plastic substrate, a transparent electrode coating applied on one side of the substrate, further coated with the light emitting polymer film
and lastly an evaporated metal electrode applied on the other side of the polymer film. [Source: Cambridge Display Technology].
Because the polymers in PLED are made of organic molecules, they are also known as OLEDs-organic light emitting diodes. Clothes using PLED displays are not yet in the market, though there is a likelihood of PLED application in the near future.
The future of light emitting textiles is bright, but certain issues need to be overcome, such as to safely clean the fabric power network and reach the mass market. Now, with advanced technology of fabrics that can be used to create computerized clothes, light emitting diodes are entering the world of fashion. The future holds a promising note for the light-emitting textiles in fashion/clothing to be used in conjunction with positive stimuli to modify and improve behaviour in the context of health psychology, like the visual impaired, emotional anxiety or in sports clothing as a part of monitoring.
A revolution has also been going on in the electronics and computer industries to develop wearable devices for what's being called the post-PC era, some of them being in the consumer market, like for example Eleksen's skiing jacket with a pressure pad. Marks & Spencer is producing suits with an inside iPod. The next phase of this post-PC era will be to integrate computers and other devices directly into our clothing, so that they are virtually invisible. These concepts are utilizing metallic yarns like the silk organza to make fashion statements in future years.
The clothing industry will soon find invisible garments and researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico are working on a new camouflage system using a nanotech-based 'chameleon suit'. This would automatically adjust to the colors of the surrounding environment, and probably be used by the defense industry. More promising, perhaps, is the Biocouture project, with a collaboration between designers at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and CelluComp, a Scottish sustainable biotech company. This is to make clothing from bacterial cellulose- a more or less renewable resource. In theory, the production methods could require far less energy and resources than cotton clothes.
But only the future of such high tech concepts lies in their sustainability and reaching out for wider consumer base.
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