Electronic textile makes for touchscreen curtains or clothes
Textiles have been getting smarter for years, but they’re usually fairly limited in size and scope. Now a team of scientists led by Cambridge has woven together a 46-inch textile display, loaded with LEDs, sensors and energy storage, that can be made using existing industrial manufacturing processes.
There’s been no shortage of smart fabrics and textiles unveiled in recent years, including some that absorb energy from sunlight and movement, some that sense touch like a trackpad, and some that could be incorporated into clothes to heat or cool the wearer. But there are a few limitations – these can usually only do a single job, and manufacturing is often a fiddly process.
The new smart textile aims to solve both of those problems. It’s made up of fiber-based LEDs, which can be activated through several input devices that are also fiber-based, including light, touch and temperature sensors, a radio frequency antenna, a biosensor module, and an energy storage system.
The resulting smart textile can display different images or colors based on input from those devices. So it could, for example, be made into touchscreen curtains, carpets that harvest energy as people walk across them, or shirts that light up in response to temperature changes.
Importantly, because all of the electronic components in the new fabric are embedded in fibers, they can be woven and knitted into whatever shape is needed. The components were first coated in a material to help them withstand extra stretching, while some were braided to improve their durability. Multiple components were connected using conductive adhesives and laser welding.
The end result is a smart textile that can be produced at larger scales using standard textile manufacturing processes, which opens up the range of applications it could be viable for.
“By integrating fiber-based electronics, photonic, sensing and energy functionalities, we can achieve a whole new class of smart devices and systems,” said Luigi Occhipinti, co-lead researcher on the study. “By unleashing the full potential of textile manufacturing, we could soon see smart and energy-autonomous Internet of Things devices that are seamlessly integrated into everyday objects and many other sector applications.”
The next steps for the team are to develop ways to make the smart fabrics out of sustainable materials.
The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Source: Cambridge University