Asimina Kiourti writes in Smithsonian Magazine about efforts to create “smart fabrics” that will have the electronic components woven, or embroidered, right into them. The electronic components will be part of the fabric through embroidery using e-threads.
From Smithsonian Mag
|The Next Generation of ‘Smart’ Fabrics Could Have Electronics Embroidered Into Them|
….(Smart fabrics) e are already available for purchase, such as leggings that provide gentle vibrations for easier yoga, T-shirts that track player performance and sports bras that monitor heart rate. Smart fabrics have potentially promising uses in health care (measuring patients’ heart rate and blood pressure), defense (monitoring soldiers’ health and activity levels), cars (adjusting seat temperatures to make passengers more comfortable) and even smart cities (letting signs communicate with passersby).
…..My work at the ElectroScience Laboratory of the Ohio State University aims to make antennas and power sources that are equally flexible and washable. Specifically, we’re embroidering electronics directly into fabrics using conductive threads, which we call “e-threads.”
The e-threads we’re working with are bundles of twisted polymer filaments to provide strength, each with a metal-based coating to conduct electricity. The polymer core of each filament is typically made out of Kevlar or Zylon, while the surrounding coating is silver. Tens or even hundreds of these filaments are then twisted together to form a single e-thread that’s usually less than half a millimeter across.
These e-threads can be easily used with common commercial embroidery equipment – the same computer-connected stitching machines that people use every day to put their names on sports jackets and sweatshirts. The embroidered antennas are lightweight and just as good as their rigid copper counterparts, and can be as intricate as state-of-the-art printed circuit boards.
Our e-thread antennas can even be combined with regular threads in more complex designs, like integrating antennas into corporate logos or other designs. We’ve been able to embroider antennas on fabrics as thin as organza and as thick as Kevlar. Once embroidered, the wires can be connected to sensors and batteries by traditional soldering or flexible interconnections that plug components together.
So far, we’ve been able to create smart hats that read deep brain signals for patients with Parkinson’s or epilepsy. We have embroidered T-shirts with antennas that extend the range of Wi-Fi signals to the wearer’s mobile phone. We also made mats and bedsheets that monitor infants’ height to screen for a range of early childhood medical conditions. And we’ve made foldable antennas that measure how much a surface the fabric is on has bent or lifted.