Some of the initial buzz has waned, but large companies are investing heavily in the technology and giving us a glimpse of what may be ahead.
The company’s Switch Sensor Tex converts any fabric or textile backing into a flexible, portable, washable keyboard that can be used either as a standalone device or incorporated into sports gear or automotive upholsteries. The company’s Mattress Mat for bedding applications can measure and monitor the position of a patient, evaluate patient comfort, or detect nonuniform pressures that can cause bedsores in patients who remain in beds or wheelchairs for extended periods of time.
Ohmatex in Denmark has been finding new ways to integrate electronics into textiles for more than 10 years, providing customized solutions for every project and customer. Ohmatex products include thin conductive-textile cabling and washable connectors that provide comfortable and practical ways of introducing electronics into garments and smart wearable devices. Ohmatex currently has a contract with the European Space Agency to develop a garment for monitoring muscle activity in astronauts during their training on the International Space Station. Other projects they have been involved with include embedding heat sensors in firefighter suits made by Viking Life-Saving Equipment and developing woven fibers that can convert and store solar energy.
Schoeller Textil AG is a Switzerland-based company that makes and licenses performance, protection, and technical textiles. The company won a major 2017 Swiss award for design excellence for its heatable e-soft-shell fabric, which can be cut to size for making clothing without affecting the embedded technology. It is primarily designed for outdoor sports and motorcycling but could also be used for fashion or wellness applications. E-soft-shell is a laminate consisting of bi-elastic tissue, machined lining, and a functional corkshell coating. The heating technology is based on metallic yarns integrated with the fabric in a diamond-shaped geometrical pattern. The material can be heated evenly at standard voltages.
Some developers of textiles and garments are exploring the possibility of using graphene, a one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. About 200 times stronger than steel, graphene is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have demonstrated how graphene inks can be inkjet printed directly onto fabrics to produce integrated electronic circuits that are comfortable to wear.
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