The smart fabrics industry is a $340 million dollar industry growing 19% annually and projected to reach $720 million by 2008, according to a recent study. Although the industry is still in its infancy, the potential for rapid growth of smart fabrics in military, medical and sporting equipment is high.
With the emerging range of nanotechnologies come useful applications of wearable electronics such as clothing which dispense medication based on sensed need (iontophoresis), shirts with radios and music players embedded into them or coats with displays carrying weather forecasts.
"Smart Clothing" has even made it onto the catwalk at the Siggraph exhibition and fashion show, where one of the models was wearing a design by Andrew Schneider. The solar bikini overlays the basic swimsuit with narrow strips of photovoltaic film sewn on with conductive thread. The suit produces a five volt output that, via the attached USB connector, can recharge gadgets like the iPod. The only drawback is that wearing it means no dip in the pool to cool off.
The bikini allows the wearer to recharge their gadgets
Source: BBC News
Another designer Leah Buckley created a garment more for a performer. It is studded with a variety of motion sensors that feed information, via built-in Bluetooth, about how the wearer is moving to a computer that interprets the sensor data. This can be used to create music or cue up video, audio or light displays to enhance performances.
Maggie Orth CEO of International Fashion Machines produces textiles that are screens. Her latest work makes use of a large woven circuit, which combines electrodes woven with conductive yarn, thermochromic ink, drive electronics, and expressive software. Textile electrodes are woven with highly conductive yarns in the warp (on the selvedges), and resistive yarns in the weft. Plain weave connects these yarns together electrically. Selvedges are cut to create individual color-change areas, and connected to drive electronics. The weaving is printed with a thermochromic ink formula, which changes color when heated. Drive electronics send current to the individual pixels, heating the resistive yarns and changing the color of the ink. Expressive software controls the patterns and sequences of the color-change events.
While many "Smart Products" have been limited editions or aimed at the upper end of the markets we are now seeing products in main stream retail outlets such as UK's Marks & Spencer, who have recently announced that they are stocking an "iPod" suit which allows the wearer to control their iPod by simply touching the lapel. The 'smart-fabric' technology has been developed by the British technology company Eleksen. The suit jacket integrates ElekTex smart fabric touchpad technology, which transforms the lapel into a 5-button electronic control panel. The touchpad allows the person wearing the suit to control their iPod on/off, play, pause, track changes, and volume functions. The iPod is tucked away in an interior pocket, which also has a connector sewn into it.
References: http://menu.mcleodresidence.com, bbc news
Source top image: Eleksen
For more on Smart Fabrics attend Printed Electronics Asia 2007 or Printed Electronics USA 2007