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Smart textiles

Fibres used in everyday textiles can provide beauty, durability and elasticity. Adding a whole new dimension to these properties is project FiCom, which integrates computing power into fibre material.

Industrial Technologies icon Industrial Technologies

Fibres are materials with a very high aspect ratio, that means they have a very long length compared to their cross sectional dimensions. Many everyday objects are either made of or contain textile fibres, serving structural and aesthetic purposes. Embedding computer power into materials shaped in the form of fibres will give them a new dimension of functionality. In fact the integration of computing power into clothes or entities of that kind would render a computer 'wearable'. The incorporation of computing power into fibres used in everyday objects turns the objects into artefacts that can compute, sense or remember. More importantly, this integration of computation into textiles is so seamless that it does not change the original function of the entity. The central concept of the FiCom project is to embed the basic unit of computation, the transistor, into fibres that make up weavable objects. Then, the interconnection of transistors can yield central processing units, sensors and memory within one fibre. Fibres can be made from many materials such as glass, ceramic, polymer and metal, which determine the area of use. In the framework of the FiCom project the material selection was of primary importance, since the objective was not only to add computing abilities into materials, but also to maintain flexibility and tactile comfort. In this direction, extrusion and fibre drawing technologies were applied for the development of fibres with the chemical and physical properties and cross-sectional geometries, which permit them to be used as substrates for the application of semiconducting electronic devices. Purity, and electrical and physical properties were also some of the criteria in the material selection for the fibre production. Furthermore, emphasis was given on the coating of the fibres, as it is one of the critical engineering steps. Coating is meant to protect the fibres and the applied electronics, mechanically and chemically from damages during integration into textiles and their subsequent everyday use. After evaluation of several commercially available coatings for optical glass fibres, it was concluded that an ultraviolet curable acrylate coating yields the most promising results. This ability to fabricate transistors on fibres that are to be included in textiles will lead to a wearable computer, opening amazing possibilities in areas such as health monitoring, security systems, smart structures.

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