Now that’s a smart hat: new wearable electronic textiles

Bobbin with high-tech yarn
Hundreds of metres long high-performance flexible semiconductor fibres collected on a cylindrical bobbin, together with some preforms after the manufacturing process. Credit: Zhixun Wang via Springer Nature

A team of Chinese and Singaporean scientists have figured out how to make a durable ultra-long smart fibre that could be woven into a range of wearable electronics.

The researchers have demonstrated its use in beanies that sense traffic light changes for the visually impaired, more comfortable heart rate monitors, and a jumper that can send and receive digital information.

A description of the fibre is published in Nature.

The researchers first examined how semiconductor-based fibres are currently manufactured, and the faults that can occur from this process.

They used this information to develop a semiconductor-manufacturing process that can produce higher-performance flexible fibres.

Their fibres, based on silicon and germanium, are optoelectronic – they can detect and emit light.

According to the research team’s paper, “the mechanical robustness of the optoelectronic fibres allows them to be woven into large-scale functional fabrics while maintaining favourable features such as conformability, washability and permeability”.

Two people stand metres apart holding long bolt of fabric
The fibre made into a lare-scale fabric. Credit: Wang et al, 2024, Nature,, CC-BY

To demonstrate this, they wove an optoelectronic fabric that was several metres in length, followed by a series of devices that their fabric could be used in.

One was a knitted hat that sensed changes in traffic lights and forwarded them to an app on a smartphone. The researchers suggest this could be useful for helping those with vision impairment.

Another was a cloth-based heart rate monitor that wrapped around the wrist, which performed at similar levels to commercial monitors, but more flexible and comfortable to wear.

The fibres are waterproof: the researchers were able to wash the fabric 10 times without any degradation.

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