Published on Aug 15, 2016
Based on the advances in computer technology, especially in the field of miniaturization, wireless technology and worldwide networking, the vision of wearable computers emerged. We already use a lot of portable electronic devices like cell phones, notebooks and organizers. The next step in mobile computing could be to create truly wearable computers that are integrated into our daily clothing and always serve as our personal assistant.
This paper explores this from a textile point of view. Which new functions could textiles have? Is a combination of textiles and electronics possible? What sort of intelligent clothing can be realized? Necessary steps of textile research and examples of current developments are presented as well as future challenges.
Today, the interaction of human individuals with electronic devices demands specific user skills. In future, improved user interfaces can largely alleviate this problem and push the exploitation of microelectronics considerably. In this context the concept of smart clothes promises greater user-friendliness, user empowerment, and more efficient services support. Wearable electronics responds to the acting individual in a more or less invisible way.
It serves individual needs and thus makes life much easier. We believe that today, the cost level of important microelectronic functions is sufficiently low and enabling key technologies are mature enough to exploit this vision to the benefit of society. In the following, we present various technology components to enable the integration of electronics into textiles.
Electronic textiles (e-textiles) are fabrics that have electronics and interconnections woven into them. Components and interconnections are a part of the fabric and thus are much less visible and, more importantly, not susceptible to becoming tangled together or snagged by the surroundings. Consequently, e-textiles can be worn in everyday situations where currently available wearable computers would hinder the user. E-textiles also have greater flexibility in adapting to changes in the computational and sensing requirements of an application.
The number and location of sensor and processing elements can be dynamically tailored to the current needs of the user and application, rather than being fixed at design time. As the number of pocket electronic products (mobile phone, palm-top computer, personal hi-fi, etc.) is increasing, it makes sense to focus on wearable electronics, and start integrating today's products into our clothes. The merging of advanced electronics and special textiles has already begun. Wearable computers can now merge seamlessly into ordinary clothing. Using various conductive textiles, data and power distribution as well as sensing circuitry can be incorporated directly into wash-and-wear clothing.