Wearable tech-style

Researchers have created a durable, wearable textile that features a large-area, electronic display.

Created from cotton integrated with conductive and luminescent fibres, the fabric can withstand 100 cycles of washing, and is breathable and flexible enough to be comfortably worn.

The research teams, based at Fudan University in China, made a test version of the textile that is six metres long and 25 centimetres wide, complete with a built-in solar panel, a touch-sensitive keypad and a Bluetooth connection.

The researchers created a luminescent fibre out of a zinc sulphide phosphor, combined with cotton yarn. This became the warp of the fabric. The weft was made from polyurethane gel and cotton yarn, and used as the conductor between the luminescent fibres. When the warp and weft cross over one another, the luminescent fibre glows. In the test fabric, these glowing points are 800 micrometres apart, meaning they can be used like a screen to display simple images.

The fabric was woven on an industrial loom.

850 electronic textile 2
The 6m x 25cm fabric, with electroluminescent units. Credit: Huisheng Peng’s research group.

The textile could be used in a range of ways – including extending as a phone display (similar to our current smartwatches), for navigation assistance, and for wearable health monitoring.

In their paper, published in Nature, the authors also suggest the fabric could be used to enhance communications when speech is difficult or impossible – for instance, displaying written translations.

The researchers also showed that the fabric could be used to telegraph peoples’ mental state. They scanned the brainwaves of several volunteers while either meditating or playing a competitive game, and connected the data from the brain scans to the fabric. The display on the fabric indicated whether the volunteers felt anxious or relaxed. The authors suggest this could become a useful way of assisting people to communicate.

While there are many people developing smart fabrics around the globe, this is one of the most durable examples made to date.

“Our approach unifies the fabrication and function of electronic devices with textiles, and we expect that woven-fibre materials will shape the next generation of electronics,” write the researchers in their paper.

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