Technology

May 1, 2016

THE FABRICS THAT CAN

Imagine a fabric that tells you if you are sick, or that regulates your body temperature, or even one that helps your skin. A true revolution that has already started, and that opens the door for design, imagination and technology to work hand in hand to produce unique and multipurpose garments, décors, or sports outfits.

Smart fabrics allow to optimize features such as lightness, and breathability, or to react to external conditions, such as light or heat. For example, light sensitive fabrics, made of photochromic dyes, have smart pigments that change colour in response to sunlight, and are mainly used in t-shirts and military clothing. 

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The new denim collection by Calzedonia (specialist in socks, beachwear and underwear), created in collaboration with Solvay (an international group of chemical products and advanced materials, headquartered in Belgium), using this company's invention, Emana yarn. It is a polyamide yarn with incorporated bioactive minerals which, when in contact with the body, improve the skin microcirculation by facilitating heat exchange. Thanks to Emana, these jeans help to improve the wearer's skin. Other examples are Ohmatex's new textile USB 2.0 cable, a smooth textile cable with two connectors, consisting of conductive wires woven into a thin textile ribbon, and Chromosonic, by Hungarian designer Judit Eszter Karpati, an experimental electronic textile consisting of nichrome wires woven into the fabric and temperature-sensitive dye. An Arduino open-source platform connected to the fabric processes audio files, and heats the nichrome, which affects the temperature-sensitive dye, generating audio derived patterns that pulse in time with it.

One of the most striking advancements may be the self-cleaning textiles from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University (RMIT), Australia. Researchers at the RMIT have developed a cheap and efficient new way to grow special nanostructures on the actual textiles. These nanostructures are copper and silver-based, metals known for the ability to absorb light. When exposed to light, the nanostructures receive an energy boost that generates hot electrons, which in turn emit a burst of energy that degrades organic matter. The ultimate challenge is to produce the nanostructures on an industrial scale and attach them permanently to textiles.

Another innovation is the Wearable Advanced Sensor Platform -WASP™ by Globe, presented at the first-ever Smart Fabrics Summit, which was held in Washington DC, United States of America (USA), on 11 April. The WASP™ is a body-worn system that integrates physiological and location monitoring into a single system. Designed for firefighters and first responders, collects, transmits, and displays integrated user data in real time to a command station. Directed at professions in which extreme physiological stress is experienced, it tracks heart rate and variability, estimated core body temperature, activity levels, respiration rate, posture, and other physiological factors, as well as 3D location inside a building, all in real time.

Also, the Sensoria's integrated wearable system for runners deserves mention. Sensoria, a leader in wearable fitness technology based in Redmond, Washington, USA, launched a line of wearable fitness gear with an integrated running system. The company had previously developed a mobile app to be used along with Sensoria's smart socks via a Bluetooth anklet. The socks are infused with textile sensors that detect activity type and impact forces. Now, Sensoria completely reimagined the smart sports bra and t-shirt using a fabric with moisture wicking to decrease body temperature fluctuations, and new integrated heart rate electrodes, designed to offer improved comfort, accuracy, consistency, and user experience. The smart socks and upper body garments all connect to the Sensoria Fitness mobile app, and continuously send data to provide holistic, real-time feedback.

The world of technology won't stop, and the smart fabrics are a growing subject of study. Auto-cleaning is just the beginning. Even very specific and distinct areas, such as medicine, psychology, automotive, can benefit from this revolution of smart fabrics. Who knows they may even come to be used in aerospace engineering. 

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