21st Century Textiles Will Make Life Better

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21st Century Textiles Will Make Life Better

Since long before the invention of written language, textiles have played a major role in making our lives safe and comfortable. With each technology revolution textiles have become progressively more functional and affordable.

Now, as we continue into Golden Age of the Fifth Techno-Economic Revolution, digital technology is poised to transform textiles in ways that, until now, were unimaginable. Consider nine of the latest breakthroughs emerging from the world’s research labs.

First, as recently described in Nature, researchers at MIT have discovered a scalable path for integrating semiconductor devices directly into fibers. As a result, they are anticipating the emergence of a 'Moore's law' analog in fibers. The MIT breakthrough is already allowing engineers to expand the fundamental capabilities of fabrics to encompass communications, lighting, physiological monitoring, and more. In the years ahead, fabrics will deliver value-added services and will no longer just be selected for aesthetics and comfort. MIT’s initial application is the first fabric-based communication network. Beyond communications, the fibers could potentially have significant applications in the biomedical field. For example, such fibers could be used to make a wristband that could measure pulse rates or blood oxygen levels or they could be woven into a bandage to continuously monitor the healing process. - In the prototype, the primary solid components were light emitting diodes and photo-sensing diodes. During manufacture both the devices and the tiny connective wires maintain their dimensions, while everything shrinks around them. The resulting fibers are then woven into fabrics. Then, in order to demonstrate their practicality as a possible material for clothing, the woven fabric was laundered 10 times and showed no degradation of performance.

Second, instead of serving as electronic communications channels, a French breakthrough involves clothing fibers designed to serve as artificial nerves. The journal Advanced Materials just reported on a team’s success in developing a fast and simple way to make super-elastic, multi-material, high-performance fibers, which have already been integrated into robotic fingers as “artificial nerves.” Whenever the fingers touch something, the fibers transmit information about the robot's tactile interaction with its environment...

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