Weaving electronic smarts into clothing has the potential to heat headgear, monitor health and keep you connected. But smart fabrics are not just useful for wearables. To demonstrate this, Madison Maxey has created a tablecloth-sized textile trackpad to replace a computer mouse or, well, trackpad.
Smart fabrics are basically textiles capable of lighting up, sensing or heating. The Textile Touchpad was developed at Brooklyn's New Lab as part of an Artist in Residence at Autodesk's Pier 9 to demonstrate potential product applications for Loomia's smart fabric technology. Loomia is the company Thiel Fellow Maxey set up in 2013 to create electronic textiles and manufacturing solutions.
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At the heart of the 30 x 36 inch (762 x 914.4 mm) Textile Touchpad is an Adafruit Flora microcontroller, which is connected to X/Y sensors, conductive fabric strips laid out in a grid pattern and capacitive touch breakout boards. Cover fabric was stitched in place to hide all the inner workings and then the Touchpad programmed. Maxey also included vibration motors so that when users brushed hands across the fabric to control a mouse curser onscreen, they got some haptic feedback.
The end result is a fabric trackpad that gives a huge interface surface to play with, allowing unrestricted movement by users and allowing them to treat the computer screen as a large canvas for the creation of digital drawings and 3D models. After use, the 2 lb (0.9 kg) Touchpad can be folded away in a suitcase or backpack for ease of transport.
Though the Textile Touchpad is not being available for sale, Maxey has produced a nine step Instructables guide for makers who want to create their own giant fabric computer interface.