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Smart textiles

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

The term "smart textiles," which also refers to “technical textiles" and "intelligent textiles," describes fabrics that have been modified with technology to perform tasks beyond those of conventional textiles. In order for the fabric to react to its surroundings or the wearer, it may be equipped with sensors, LED lights, heating components, or conductive materials.

There are a variety of possible steps involved in the production of smart fabrics:

1. Creating the Textile Pattern: The materials to be utilised, as well as the textile's intended purpose and aesthetic, must be determined at this stage.

2. Attaching or embedding electronic components like sensors, processors, and communication devices into the textile constitutes electronic integration. Sewing, weaving, and printing are only some of the methods that can be used for this purpose.

3. A power source is required for smart textiles to function; this can be achieved through batteries, solar cells, or other energy harvesting techniques.

4. Smart textiles require programming in the form of software or firmware to allow for certain behaviours.

5. Functionality, durability, and safety tests must be performed on the textile.

The materials used to create smart textiles will be determined by the purpose of the textile, how it will be used, how much it will cost, and how readily it can be obtained. Developing smart textiles might be difficult, as it calls for knowledge of both textile production and electronic engineering. However, it is becoming more accessible and cost-effective thanks to advancements in technology and materials, which has resulted in exciting new opportunities for the textile sector.

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Smart textiles can be broken down into various categories.

Intelligent fabrics: These fabrics can now react to external stimuli like touch or motion thanks to the incorporation of electrical components. They have many potential uses, from fashion and accessories to interior design and even building construction. Interactive textiles can be utilised in a variety of ways, including clothing that changes colour or pattern in reaction to the wearer's movements and curtains that open and close in response to the amount of sunlight entering a room. Several brands have already created garments and accessories that alter their hue or design in response to the wearer's gestures or touches. The startup CuteCircuit, for instance, has created a garment that lights up in reaction to tweets and a top that can be controlled by a smartphone app.

Tech textiles that can be worn on the body include sensors, processors, and communication devices. They have a wide range of applications, including health monitoring, exercise tracking, and haptic feedback. Wearable tech such as "smart" t-shirts with sensors that monitor vital signs and motion or "smart" socks that record steps taken are two such examples. Numerous businesses now provide gadgets that can be worn on the body to record data on the wearer's health and fitness, such as fitness trackers and smartwatches. Fitbit, Apple, and Samsung are just a few of the businesses that produce fitness trackers and smartwatches that can record your heart rate, number of steps taken, and other useful data about your health.

The term "medical textiles" refers to garments that have been modified by the addition of electronic components, such as sensors, to perform medical tasks such as monitoring vital signs or administering drugs. Many different types of medical equipment, including bandages, diagnostic patches, and implantable devices, can benefit from their incorporation. A diagnostic patch that measures glucose levels in the blood, for instance, or a bandage that tracks the patient's recovery time. Smart wound dressings, diagnostic patches, and other wearable medical textiles are now in development by many companies. Companies like Medtronic produce subcutaneously worn devices like glucose monitors, and others like MC10 have created diagnostic patches that can track vital signs.

Textiles with added technology to protect the wearer from dangerous elements (such as heat, cold, or chemicals) are used in the military and for protective clothing. They can be incorporated into uniforms, gear, and even vehicles for use by firefighters, the military, and other emergency personnel. Examples include a firefighter's suit that can track vitals and report them in real-time to a command centre and a soldier's outfit that can withstand the effects of chemical weapons. Businesses are creating gear that can withstand harsh environments for use by firefighters, soldiers, and other emergency workers. Companies like DuPont, for instance, produce chemical- and flame-resistant apparel.

Fabrics that can harvest energy from their surroundings and use it to power electronics are called "energy-harvesting textiles." From mobile phones and tablets to wearable tech and medical implants, these sources of energy have many potential applications. For instance, a backpack that creates power while you walk or a jacket that can charge a phone using wind and solar energy. Companies such as Pavegen have created tiles for the floor that can generate electricity simply from the weight of people walking on them, while Vollebak has created a jacket that can charge a phone using the energy of the sun and the wind.

When it comes to the cost of smart textiles, those made with more sophisticated technologies and better-quality materials indeed tend to be more expensive. For instance, the price of a smart textile with several sensors and an elaborate communication system is expected to be more than that of a simpler sensor-based textile. In the same vein, a smart textile crafted from conductive fibres or other high-tech elements will most certainly cost more than its conventionally crafted counterpart. It's also possible that the cost of smart fabrics would rise if they were manufactured in smaller quantities. Thanks to economies of scale, production costs can go down as output volumes rise. It's important to remember that smart textiles might be worth more than their initial purchase price if they end up increasing the wearer's health or safety or reducing their impact on the environment.

Keep in mind that many of these goods are still in their infancy and may not be widely available just yet. Although there are currently some commercially accessible smart textile goods, some of which are rather affordable, such as fitness-tracking smart apparel and textile-based medical equipment. Potential uses for "smart" textiles extend far beyond the realms of fashion and consumer products into fields like healthcare, transportation, and more. The ways in which smart textiles might enhance human existence are only going to expand as technology develops further.


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