Engineers at Purdue University have given conventional cloth clothing a retrofit, transforming them into an ultra-modern example of wearables technology.
Unlike common wearables, the Purdue smart clothes do not require batteries for powering. By simply harvesting energy from ubiquitous Wi-Fi or radio waves, the clothes can passively power the circuitry. This capability comes through a flexible, silk-based coil that can be sewn into the fabric of any clothing.
“In the near future, all your clothes will become smart,” according to a Purdue University announcement. “These smart clothes will outperform conventional passive garments, thanks to their miniaturized electronic circuits and sensors, which will allow you to seamlessly communicate with your phone, computer, car and other machines.
“This smart clothing will not only make you more productive but also check on your health status and even call for help if you suffer an accident. The reason why this smart clothing is not all over your closet yet is that the fabrication of this smart clothing is quite challenging, as clothes need to be periodically washed and electronics despise water.”
The answer the engineers developed for that issue, however, is a new-spray coating method of highly hydrophobic molecules. That means, yes, the clothes are water-proof, oil-proof, mud-proof and just-about-any-other-liquid-proof.
What Sets These Wearables Apart
The ultrathin coating of the materials allows the wearables to shirk the rigidity and reduced breathability common with typical waterproof garments. This makes the clothing “as flexible, stretchable and breathable as conventional cotton T-shirts,” according to Ramses Martinez, an assistant professor in Purdue’s School of Industrial Engineering and in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering in Purdue’s College of Engineering.
“I envision smart clothes will be able to transmit information about the posture and motion of the wearer to mobile apps, allowing machines to understand human intent without the need of other interfaces, expanding the way we communicate, interact with devices, and play video games,” he said.
One example is a battery-free glove that illuminates it fingertips if a user is near a live cable, alerting them of a potential electric shock. Another is a miniature cardiac monitoring system sewn into a sweatband to monitor the health status of the wearer.
Martinez and his team have been working with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to protect the intellectual property, with the innovations patent pending. But the eventuality of mass production is not a far-flung dream. With the technology being easily fabricated in conventional, large-scale sewing facilities, the development and commercialization of future smart clothes is only expected to accelerate as time goes on.
Another version of this article was previously published on CE Pro.