Your LBD (little black dress) is about to be joined in your closet by a SWD (smart wearable device). The worlds of electronics and textiles are becoming interwoven and the results are going to profoundly impact your health. Here’s what you need to know about e-textiles and smart fabrics and a preview of the clothes, shoes, and accessories that may soon find their way into your closet.
Just when you thought you’d finally gotten a handle on terms like ruching, GORE-TEX, and tulle, along comes a whole new fashion lexicon. Forget about SmartWool. We now have smart fabrics and smart clothes. And intelligent textiles, interactive textiles, interactive clothing, and wearable computing. And e-fabrics, e-textiles, e-fibers, and e-broidery.
E-textile is short for electronic- or electro- textile. E-textiles are essentially fabrics with electronics and other components that are embedded in, or intrinsic to, the fabric such that the fabric maintains its key properties, like draping.
Smart fabrics are generally defined as, well, smart. This means a fabric can not only sense the environment, but alsoreact to it. Scenarios include a fabric that warms you when you’re cold, cleans itself when it’s dirty (hooray!), lights up to ensure you’re visible when it’s dark, and automatically stiffens to protect you when you’re falling. Smart clothes could monitor your fitness parameters as you train and give you advice to modify your workout, during your workout. And of course smart clothes would recharge your mobile device while it was tucked in your pocket.
Smart clothes and e-textiles offer a second skin to help you understand what goes on under your real skin. They enable you to wear sensors comfortably and unobtrusively to track your physiological signals and your surrounding environmental conditions in real time – anytime, anywhere. They are going to influence the health of patients, the training of athletes, and the safety of fire fighters. And perhaps most significantly, they are going to create an entirely new paradigm of wear, share, and compare.
Sensors that detect physiological signals may be embedded or integrated directly into a textile (such as part of a yarn that is woven or knitted into the fabric) or they may be applied on top of the fabric, such as in an ink. Since the sensors are part of the garment, they are usually in direct contact with your skin.
The sensors can detect an amazing range of physiological stimuli from you and your surrounding environment. These include mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical, optical, and magnetic signals. Once the sensors detect the signal, it’s collected, processed, stored and transmitted.
The potential of e-textiles and smart clothes is best demonstrated by applications in two key areas: health/medical and sports/professional performance and safety.