Siri on your shirt? Futuristic fabric makes way for clothes that work like smartphones

Shanghai, China – Chinese scientists have developed a futuristic green fabric that works like a smartphone – with the ability to turn clothes into touch screens. The high-tech fabric is powered by solar energy and combines conductive and luminous fibers with cotton. It is set to revolutionize communications, navigation and healthcare.

The fabric will improve safety for cyclists, motorists and members of the emergency services. With a sleeve brush, users can, for example, see a “texture map” on their arms instantly. According to engineers, tissue may become a mind-reading tool for those who have lost the ability to speak.

“The fabric is flexible, breathable and durable — making it ideal for the real world,” study corresponding author Huisheng Peng, professor of polymer science and chemical engineering at Fudan University, says in a statement from the South West News Service.

Wearable technology was promised years ago, but creating large displays integrated with functional systems has proven to be a challenge. “Traditional solids do not easily conform to textiles because they struggle to withstand the natural deformation that occurs when the fabrics are worn and washed,” Bing explains.

Researchers have amazingly overcome this problem with a 20-foot-wide, 10-inch-wide canvas. “It weaves conductive and luminous fibers with cotton. It’s combined with a touch-sensitive canvas keyboard and a solar-harvesting power source.”

Smart Fabric
Application scenarios to display textiles as real-time location and message connections. (Fudan University)

In the experiments, the electronic fabric served as a navigation tool showing an interactive map. You also make connections by sending or retrieving messages via a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone. “The screen is produced by luminaires that form where conductive fibers and luminaires meet at the contact points of the woven fabric,” says Peng.

The fabric withstands 1,000 cycles of bending, tensing, and squeezing. Brightness remained after 100 cycles of washing and drying. As more applications are added, fabric is expected to constitute the next generation of electronic communication tools.

“We first prepare two types of fibrous electrodes—one coated with an active material and one coated with transparent and flexible. We then weave them together as strands to produce the display fabric. The screen fabric is highly flexible and has been demonstrated in three typical applications,” says Bing. “They are not just visualizations. In fact, we can produce these display textiles on a large scale and at low cost. We are already providing them to businesses. I think they will start using them this year – at least no later than next year.”

The potential is enormous, for both the public and private sectors. “First, policemen or people in other private areas may wear it at night, so it’s safer,” Peng suggests. Second, for people who cannot speak, when they wear such textiles that convert brain waves into signals on clothing, they can communicate easily and efficiently with others. Third, when you drive a car or ride a bike, you can see a ‘texture map’ on your arm.

The results of the study were published in the journal temper nature.

SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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