When we think of technology, our minds instantly go to machines, robotics, and similar products. There is a valid reason for it, as technology has been evolving we have only seen its application in the field of science and industries that naturally makes our minds think of machines of various sizes but we never think of the textile industry. But thanks to the ever-enhancing scope of it, it is being implemented into other realms as well such as clothing. Yes, you read that right clothing and soon enough you’ll be wearing smart clothes that will be providing your medical information in real-time.
Two pieces of research
Though it is not a surprise, the field of science is such that reaches a final conclusion after years of research by combining various ideas from different studies. In the case of smart clothes, there have been three experiments and one of them was fairly recent.
- Non-AI approach: The initial clothing was designed in 2014, where artificial intelligence was not used as back in those times AI was still in its early stages. This Canadian product was created by the faculty of Université Laval using numerous layers of superimposed polymers, copper, silver, and glass, resulting in a fabric that could act both like an antenna and a sensor. Though it was created with metals and glass, it was still very cloth-like, and to cater to the different seasons, researchers claimed that it could be woven with wool and nylon as well. In addition to being malleable, it could sense medical information like heart rate, sugar levels, and spatial coordination. The thing about this fabric was that it had been constantly connected to a wireless network, which would’ve been mobile phones obviously and the connection was not the best during those times. Also, in order to sense and transmit vital information a constant supply of energy was required which the team had struggles with.
- Electrical Cellulose Clothes: Within the same year, The University of Alabama created a noble fabric that was easy on the environment as well. According to the team, it was prepared with electrical cellulose by using liquid salts instead of regular chemicals used in the production of clothing, this resulted in cotton that had the capability to be conductive and it was also stated that polymers could also be prepared using a similar approach. During their experiment, the team worked with polypyrrole, a specific type of polymer which is difficult to bind to fibre but through their designed process, the base pyrrole was converted into a polymer that conducted electricity. In this process, methanol and ferric chloride have been used that act as an ionic liquid and fibres are submerged into it, this resulted in fibre that has a small charge and is not affected by the chemicals as much, ultimately the clothes would transit electrical signals. This can be woven into any material and according to the researchers it would’ve provided safety to the wearer and these could’ve been used in armed forces and medical services. This solved the problem of energy use but it landed on a completely different result.
- The New Perspective: Now coming back to the present time, engineers at Purdue University have successfully developed a method that can transform clothes into battery-free, smart clothes. This can either be sprayed onto the cloths or sewn into the cloth itself to enable it to act as a receiver for wifi and radiowaves and unlike other clothing, these are washing machine safe and they don’t get stained. In this, a piece of cloth is spray-coated with highly hydrophobic molecules, that repel water, oil, and mud from the fabric without adding the complications like unbreathable fabric, which all of the waterproof materials are, while these are compared to the comfort level of cotton cloths. Examples of these fabrics are already produced, where a glove is designed to illuminate its fingertips when the wearer is near a live wire to protect them from electric shocks and also a sweatband is available on which heart rate monitor is sewn which relays the health information. According to the team, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a type of clothing that will solely give us information that only a doctor can, but as simple as monitoring the posture of a person or heart rate is enough in the beginning. Also, it was claimed that in the future, if smart clothing is kept on progressing all the medical information might be monitored without any need of additional equipment and these fabrics will also enable us to interact with our electronic devices without requiring any additional interface.
Ultimately, the idea of smart clothing is truly amazing but still, these are in beta stages and are not available commercially. Though some of them are available to purchase online, these are only available in some of the nations and their usages is still somewhat a gimmick more than the actual use. But sure enough, future of smart clothing looks promising.