Home Tech Wearable tech: how the human body can help power the future of smart textiles

Wearable tech: how the human body can help power the future of smart textiles

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Wearable tech: how the human body can help power the future of smart textiles

Whether it’s a T-shirt that can display changing messages or a carpet that can sense where you are standing: the future of smart textiles often seemed rooted in science fiction.

Now researchers say they’ve created smart fibers that can do just those things — and they don’t even need a battery pack.

Researchers in China say they have developed fiber-based electronics that harness electromagnetic energy in the atmosphere, using the human body as part of the circuit.

This creates a ‘body-coupled’ fiber-electronic technology that does not require electronic chips or batteries to operate and which, the team says, could be used for a wide range of applications.

“When electromagnetic energy travels through the fiber, it is converted by the fibers into other forms of energy, including visible light and radio waves. So in addition to emitting light, the fiber also emits electrical signals when touched by a human body,” said Chengyi Hou, co-author of the study from Donghua University in Shanghai.

By controlling various aspects of the system, such as the fiber surface area in contact with the body or the diameter of the fibers, these wireless signals can be programmed, Hou adds.

“These wireless signals can be easily captured with a coil, and then wireless signals with different characteristics will be ‘translated’ by electronic devices into different commands,” he said, noting that this could mean turning the device on or off be taken, or whether other actions need to be taken. .

The team says this approach eliminates a key challenge faced when attempting to integrate electronic systems into textiles: the need for rigid components.

“We have already achieved mass production of this new type of fiber electronics, which is as fine and soft as traditional fibers, so the next step is to apply it to textiles that we use every day, such as clothes, towels, carpets and so on. ,” Hou said.

Prototypes developed by the team include a wearable fabric display paired with a fabric keyboard – which the team says can be used by people with hearing impairments to help them communicate with others – and textile controllers for video games.

They also created a wireless haptic carpet that glows underfoot and that not only provides a form of emergency lighting at night, but can also wirelessly send signals that can be used to control switches on home appliances, such as lights.

Researchers have created a carpet that glows underfoot and can transmit signals that can be used to control switches on devices such as lighting. Photo: Weifeng Yang

Writing in the journal Sciencethe team said the fibers are three-layered, made from low-cost raw materials, and are durable, washable and sweat-resistant.

Writing in an accompanying articleYunzhu Li, of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Yiyue Luo, of MIT, suggest that such technology could also have applications in robots and robotic prosthetics, and could provide a way to collect tactile information to improve interactions between humans and to understand people better. the objects around them.

Dr. Luigi Occhipinti, director of research in smart electronics, biosystems and AI at the University of Cambridge, also said the approach has potential.

“Because we are in constant proximity to sources of electromagnetic fields of different nature and characteristics, we are developing new classes of e-textiles containing skin sensors and non-traditional electronics, uniquely powered through fiber-based energy harvesters that come into contact standing with our bodies could unleash a whole new class of self-powered wearable electronics for continuous monitoring of personal health,” he said.

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