Researchers have developed a 46-inch woven display with smart sensors, energy collection and storage facilities integrated directly into the fabric. An international team of scientists has created a fully woven smart textile display that combines active electronic, sensory, energy and photonic functions. Features are built directly into fibers and threads that are manufactured using textile industrial processes.
Researchers led by Cambridge University say their approach could lead to applications that sound like science fiction: curtains that are also TVs, energy-saving carpets, and interactive clothing and self-powered fabrics. This is the first time that a scalable complex system of large area has been integrated into textile products using a purely fiber-based approach to production. Their results are published in the journal Nature Communications.
Despite recent advances in the development of smart textiles, their functionality, size and shape are limited by current production processes. The integration of specialized fibers into textiles through conventional weaving or knitting processes means that they can be incorporated into everyday items, opening up a wide range of potential applications. However, to date the production of these fibers has been limited in size or the technology has not been compatible with textiles and the weaving process. For more information, see the IDTechEx report on E-Textiles & Smart Clothing 2021-2031: Technology, Markets and Players.
To make the technology compatible with weaving, the researchers covered each component of the fiber with materials that can withstand sufficient stretching so that they can be used on process equipment. The team also woven some fiber-based components to improve their reliability and durability. Finally, they joined several fiber components together using conductive adhesives and laser welding techniques.
Using these techniques together, they were able to incorporate many features into a large piece of woven fabric with standard, scalable textile manufacturing processes. The resulting fabric can work as a display, control various inputs or store energy for later use. The fabric can determine radio frequency signals, touch, light and temperature. It can also be rolled up, and since it is made using commercial textile production methods, it is possible to make large rolls of functional fabric.
Researchers say their prototype display is paving the way for next-generation electronic textile applications in areas such as smart and energy-efficient buildings that can generate and store their own energy, the Internet of Things (IoT), distributed touch networks and interactive displays that are flexible and comfortable to wear in combination with fabrics.
“Our approach is based on the convergence of micro- and nanotechnologies, advanced displays, sensors, energy and the production of technical textiles,” said Professor John Min Kim of the Cambridge School of Engineering, who led the study along with Dr Luigi Acipinti and Professor Manish Chhvala. “This is a step towards the full use of sustainable, comfortable electronic fiber and electronic textiles in everyday use. And this is just the beginning. “
“By integrating fiber electronics, photon, sensory and energy functions, we can achieve a whole new class of smart devices and systems.” Said Okipinti, also of Cambridge Engineering. “Unlocking the full potential of textile production, we will soon see smart and energy-efficient IoT devices that are easily integrated into everyday items and many other industry applications.”
Researchers are working with European staff to make the technology sustainable and suitable for everyday subjects. They are also working to integrate sustainable materials as fiber components, providing a new class of energy textile systems. Their flexible and functional smart fabric can eventually be made into batteries, supercapacitors, solar panels and other devices.
Source and top image: Cambridge University