Fashion is always evolving. As our world becomes increasingly technical, it makes sense that our clothes are going to as well. By combining fabric with Si wafers, Ge wafers, and more, smart textiles offer a whole new potential world of clothing.
While this industry is already worth well over a billion dollars, it’s growing rapidly. By 2023, experts expect it to be valued at 4.08 billion dollars. What are smart textiles, and what are they being used for? Let’s take a look!
Smart textiles are a type of wearable technology. Also known as “e-textiles” or “smart fabrics,” they are fabrics that incorporate semiconductors into their design. This allows them to detect information about their environment. In some cases, the textile can even respond to that environment.
While not currently as popular as smart watches, or even as well-known as smart glasses, some of the latest advances in this space make it likely to grow. This is one of many areas where semiconductors are increasing the capabilities of what people can do.
Smart textiles can be broken into three major categories, which are distinguished by the relationship that semiconductors have to textiles:
As technology has progressed, more complicated and integrated forms of smart fabrics have become possible. Often, the goal is to make smart textiles as unobtrusive as possible, while also increasing the capabilities of what clothes can do.
Smart textiles have many different uses cases, and new ones are being discovered all the time. However, these are the five industries that are currently using them the most.
The medical industry has a deeply vested interest in smart fabrics, since their ability to detect vital signs can help patients of all ages. They make at-home treatment more practical, while simultaneously increasing the amount of information available to medical professionals.
These textiles are often used to determine what treatment a patient needs, which is particularly important as more patients want access to telehealth services.
There are several medical smart textiles currently on the market, including SKIIN, which can help monitor blood pressure. Researchers are currently trying to create smart textiles that can monitor COVID-19 patients.
In some cases, textiles can even provide treatment. For instance, QNanotech gloves use heating and vibrations to help patients suffering with osteoarthritis.
Much like in the medical industry, the monitoring capabilities that smart textiles represent are useful for the military, since they allow information about a soldier’s injuries to be quickly transmitted to any personnel who can help.
Smart textiles can also be used to lighten their load, providing them with capabilities that would otherwise require them to carry heavy equipment.
For instance, a JTAC (Joint Terminal Attack Controller) coordinates the actions of ground and air forces. One smart textile company developed clothing that gives JTAC sophisticated computing power without requiring them to carry computers into the field of combat.
Once again, the monitoring capabilities that smart textiles offer represent a potential boon in athletics.
Whether you’re an athlete looking to measure performance, or you’re trying to lose weight and want to better understand your nutritional needs, smart fabrics allow you to gather all the information you need. These are just a few of the things they can monitor:
Along with this information, they can also be used to heat or cool the wearer, which is excellent if you want to play outside in intemperate conditions, or if you want to be cooled the hotter your body gets.
Along with the many practical applications that smart fabrics offer, they can also be aesthetically appealing. In fact, some of the earliest e-textiles used LEDs and fiber optics to create cutting edge, eye-catching clothing.
Harry Lee Wainwright is referred to as “the grandfather of e-textiles" for this reason. In 1985, he invented animated sweatshirts that depicted things like “trees swaying in the wind” and volcanos “spewing fire up towards Pegasus flapping his wings.”
While the major advantage of smart textiles in this space is their ability to create novel visual expressions, fashion brands can also benefit from practical applications.
For instance, once textiles can charge your phone, it’s likely that many users are going to be more likely to purchase clothes that can do so.
Safety is a major concern in construction, and smart fabrics can help workers detect when they may be suffering from sunstroke.
However, the sensory capabilities are even more important for understanding the environment around the worker, such as by allowing them to understand if there’s carbon monoxide in the area.
Construction is also where we see the capabilities of smart textiles beyond clothing. Sensors can be placed in “curtains, carpets, and wall coverings” to detect any potential health concerns. In fact, these textiles are one of the next major steps forward for the smart home industry.
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