Engineers at Purdue University in Indiana have developed a method to transform existing garments into battery-free wearables that can withstand laundry. This smart garment is wirelessly powered by a flexible silk-based bobbin sewn onto the fabric.
Experts believe that clothing of the future will become smart.
These smart clothes will outperform conventional passive clothes as they will contain miniaturized electronic circuitry and sensors that allow wearers to interact with their phone, computer, car and other machines.
These smart clothes not only make wearers more productive, but also monitor their health and even call for help if they have an accident, experts say.
But making smart clothes has been a challenge to achieve because we have to wash our clothes regularly and the water doesn’t interact well with electronics.
To challenge this, Purdue engineers have developed a new spray/sew method to transform conventional fabrics into battery-free wearables that can be washed in the washing machine.
“By spraying smart clothes with highly hydrophobic molecules, we can make them repellent to water, oil and mud,” said Ramses Martinez, an assistant professor in Purdue’s School of Industrial Engineering.
“These smart garments are almost non-staining and can be used underwater and washed in conventional washing machines without damaging the electronic components sewn to the surface.”
According to Martinez, the stiffness of typical waterproof garments and their reduced breathability make them uncomfortable after a few hours of wear.
But “thanks to their ultra-thin coating, our smart clothes remain just as flexible, stretchy and breathable as conventional cotton T-shirts,” he said.
Unlike regular wearables, Purdue’s smart clothes don’t require batteries for power.
By simply drawing energy from Wi-Fi or radio waves in the environment, the clothing can power the circuitry sewn onto the textile.
An example is a battery-less glove that illuminates its fingertips whenever the user is near a live cable to warn of the possibility of electric shock.
Another example is a miniaturized cardiac monitoring system sewn onto a washable sweatband that allows monitoring of the wearer’s health status.
“Such wearable devices, powered by ubiquitous Wi-Fi signals, will make us think not only of clothes as just a piece of clothing that keeps us warm, but also as wearable tools designed to help us in our daily lives, our health.
monitor and protect us from accidents,” said Martinez, adding:
“I imagine smart clothing sends information about the wearer’s posture and movement to mobile apps, allowing machines to understand human intentions without interfering with other interfaces are needed, expanding the way we communicate, interact with devices, and play video games.
” The researchers said experts can fabricate this technology in conventional, large-scale sewing facilities, which are expected to accelerate the development and commercialization of future smart clothing.