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WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

A new development in material science opens the door for the development of more advanced Smart Clothing.

 

Many of today’s smart clothes, such as those from Adidas, Athos, Nike, Ralf Lauren and Under Armour rely on sensors, such as EMG sensors, woven into the fabric to communicate information back to a unit or device that can process and analyse it but now a new discovery paves the way for clothing to be integrated with more powerful “on board” computer circuits and chips which could open up new use cases – if, that is, the technology ever finds its way into a commercial application.

Academics in Hong Kong have used a computerised knitting machine to weave electrical circuits into clothing that can resist stretching, washing and even the impact of bullets. The team from the University’s Institute of Textiles and Clothing used copper coated in polyutherane to carry the current and then sewed these strands together with filaments of pre-stretched elastic yarn to create the finished garment which can then be integrated and augmented with a variety of chips and flexible circuits.

 

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The details of their experiment were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A and it shows that the new fabric can tolerate a 20% deformation around 1 million times before it begins to fail. Meanwhile though – when it was tested in a domestic washing machine at 40°C, followed by tumble drying at 75°C after 30 such washing and drying cycles – 20% of samples showed some degradation in performance so there is evidently some way to go still before the prototype is production ready.

 

Fabric circuit demo reel, courtesy New Scientist

 

While the technology concept itself is novel and could indeed lead to a new proliferation of “Smart Clothing” some of the more interesting use cases for it could lie in the military sector.To demonstrate their circuits’ suitability for the military and security segment, developers Qiao Li and Xiao Ming Tao, fitted a sample under a layer of Kevlar and shot it several times with a .45 hand gun. The fabric continued to function so, as a consequence, the team believe it could be integrated into smart body armour, which could communicate when a wearer had been shot, providing the field commanders and medics with extra intel.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, CNBC, Discovery, RT, and Viacom, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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