E-Textile Allows for Easy Smart Appliance Control
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on June 28, 2018 |

Fabrics that light up or change color, or ones that can monitor body temperature—among other performance-related tasks, could be considered fun and potentially beneficial uses of e-textiles. While this technology isn’t new and continues to evolve, the main issues researchers face are that e-textiles tend to have poor air permeability, cost too much or can’t be easily cleaned.

Meanwhile, appliances, computers and other technologies continue getting smarter and smarter. A quick glance at a phone app can tell a person if their doors are locked or if they are out of milk. People can even talk to their refrigerator to get the latest news.

With both of these technologies in mind, Researchers from the School of Materials Science and Engineering in Beijing have developed, according to a recent study, an e-textile that “overcomes all of these limitations, is washable and highly sensitive to human touch” and allows a person to control appliances or computers with a quick swipe on a wristband or other clothing.

A new e-textile from Beijing researchers can control smart appliances from a simple swipe on clothing or a wristband. (Image courtesy of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.)
A new e-textile from Beijing researchers can control smart appliances from a simple swipe on clothing or a wristband. (Image courtesy of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.)

Using nanogenerator technology, which converts mechanical energy from small-scale physical change into electricity, the research team deposited an electrode array of conductive carbon nanotubes on a nylon fabric. They then integrated polyurethane into the carbon nanotube ink to keep the nanotubes in place, thus making the fabric washable.

The team’s washable e-textile has three layers: A top silk layer for friction, a bottom nylon layer that serves as the substrate and a middle layer comprised of the carbon nanotube electrode array. The result is a breathable, washable, silk-covered wristband that is inexpensive to produce. With a swipe of a finger in different patterns, the electrical signals generated by the person wearing it can be linked to computers or household objects to turn on lights, a fan or microwave from across the room.

While the team’s new e-textile could be a helpful tool in homes, especially for people with mobility issues, its uses could be far reaching. Because it can be produced on common fabric on a large scale, the researchers believe it can be a beneficial technology for factories, hospitals and other industry settings.

Interested in more “smart” innovations? Check out From Concept to Commercialization: Making the Smart Lab and PIE Is a Smart Tape Measure for Your Body.

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