Wearable Technology And E-Textiles
Sensor laden smart shirts have been around for some time. Engineers are integrating circuitry into clothing to produce shirts to keep you cool, to LED-packed dresses. However, they aren’t becoming popular.
“The user needs to feel comfortable,” says Dr. Ana Neves, a researcher from the University of Exeter in the UK who specializes in wearable electronics. “Most smart textiles still rely on integrating conventional electronics onto fabrics, attaching them to the surface and removing them when the textile needs to be washed.”
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As part of the E-TEX project, Dr. Neves and her colleagues are using a different approach, by building devices directly into the fibers of textiles using flexible and lightweight components. For instance, it is possible to design a t-shirt to monitor the wearer’s heartbeat without the need for embedded electronics.
Dr. Neves got the idea of the project in 2014 when she developed a technique to make textile fibers conduct electricity by coating them with graphene.
The properties of graphene, a lightweight, bendable, stretchable semi-metal are ideal for use in textiles. It is also transparent, making it suitable for light-emitting displays.
“If we simply add a step or two, the chances of this type of technology being adopted will be significantly higher than if we tell a manufacturer that they need to completely reformulate their production lines,” said Dr. Neves.