Tag Archives: smart clothing

Sample circuit printed on fabric. Credit: Felice Torrisi

Scientists embed flexible, washable integrated circuits into fabric

Researchers used special graphene inks to print electronics on fabric, opening new avenues of opportunity for smart clothing and wearable electronics. The integrated circuits are flexible, washable, and breathable, making them perfectly adapted for fabric-based applications.

Sample circuit printed on fabric. Credit: Felice Torrisi

Sample circuit printed on fabric. Credit: Felice Torrisi

“Digital textile printing has been around for decades to print simple colourants on textiles, but our result demonstrates for the first time that such technology can also be used to print the entire electronic integrated circuits on textiles,” said co-author Professor Roman Sordan of Politecnico di Milano.

“Although we demonstrated very simple integrated circuits, our process is scalable and there are no fundamental obstacles to the technological development of wearable electronic devices both in terms of their complexity and performance.“

The team, which involved researchers from Britan, Italy, and China, employed a graphene ink formulated during earlier work. The ink was directly printed onto polyester fabric, resulting in a fully integrated electronic circuit with both active and passive components. Tests suggest the all-printed electronics on fiber can survive up to 20 cycles in a typical washing machine.

Wearable electronics on the market today rely on rigid electronics mounted on rubber or plastic. For this reason, the clothing or wearable electronics are easily damaged when washing or offer limited compatibility with the skin.

The graphene-based ink is cheap, safe, and environmentally friendly, as opposed to previous attempts that generally involve toxic solvents, which makes them unsuitable for human contact. Moreover, the integrated circuits require low power, making them ideal for wearable electronics applications.

“Turning textile fibres into functional electronic components can open to an entirely new set of applications from healthcare and wellbeing to the Internet of Things,” said Torrisi. “Thanks to nanotechnology, in the future our clothes could incorporate these textile-based electronics, such as displays or sensors and become interactive.”

Scientific reference: Tian Carey et al. ‘Fully inkjet-printed two-dimensional material field-effect heterojunctions for wearable and textile electronics.’ Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01210-2

A schematic that illustrates the various applications of a smart fiber sensing network. Image: Stepan Gorgutsa, Universite Laval

Smart fibers can turn your sweater into a medical monitoring station

The more data doctors have of their patients’ health, the better the treatments they can prescribe. Ideally, you’d want patients to be constantly monitored for key life signs like heart rhythm, glucose levels or even brain activity. Typically, this is only possible in a hospital setting, but what if you want to follow how a patient is doing in real time for long periods of time, months or even years? A non-invasive technique would be to embed both monitoring and signaling devices directly into the clothing. Canadian researchers have faith something like this is possible using so-called  “smart textiles” which they developed.

Smart fibers for smart clothing

A schematic that illustrates the various applications of a smart fiber sensing network. Image:  Stepan Gorgutsa, Universite Laval

A schematic that illustrates the various applications of a smart fiber sensing network. Image: Stepan Gorgutsa, Universite Laval

“The fiber acts as both sensor and antenna. It is durable but malleable, and can be woven with wool or cotton, and signal quality is comparable to commercial antennas,” explained Professor Younes Messaddeq at Université Laval’s Faculty of Science and Engineering and Centre for Optics, Photonics and Lasers.

Smart fabric is durable, malleable, and can be woven with cotton or wool. Horizontal lines are antennas. (Credit: Stepan Gorgutsa, Universite Laval)

Smart fabric is durable, malleable, and can be woven with cotton or wool. Horizontal lines are antennas. (Credit: Stepan Gorgutsa, Universite Laval)

The fibers are made out of a polymer-clad silica with a hollow-core. The material can easily withstand high tensile and bending stresses, meaning it can easily twist and shrug as is often the case with clothing. The fibers are also resistant to mechanical abrasion and harsh environments like humidity, high temperatures, acid or detergent exposure due to the thick polyimide polymer overcoat.

All the conducting elements are inside the fibers, which are thick enough to protect the wiring against  the environment. Various sensors can be attached to the surface to monitor key health signals, which are then relayed through 2.4 GHz wireless networks with excellent signal quality. A shirt that registers your heart rate or a cap that reads your brain activity is now possible. Medical monitoring doesn’t need to be bulky and invasive; tucked inside smart fibers and woven along with regular cotton fibers, virtually any stylish clothing could be turned into a medical station.

The findings were described in a paper published in the journal Sensors. [story via KurzweilAI]