The latest next-generation smart fabrics can now be made in minutes using laser printing technology. The researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have engineered a new cost-effective and scalable method for rapidly fabricating e-textiles that are embedded with energy storage devices. The method can produce a waterproof, readily integrated and stretchable smart textile patch in just 3 minutes.
What is e-textile?
textile is a fabric developed with embedded electronics to allow conductivity and the use of various technologies needed in daily life. These smart fabrics can be equipped with batteries, LEDs, sensors and hands-free devices depending on the garment’s purpose. A piece of smart fabric is made by incorporating conductive material into regular fabrics, like weaving silver thread into regular cloth.
Some smart fabrics are designed to support computing technologies, while some are developed to add functionality to non-technical applications. These fabrics for interior design applications and smart clothing can change the color or light up. Sportswear embedded with technology help in improving performance by controlling wind resistance, regulating body temperature and monitoring the composition of an athlete’s perspiration.
The diverse applications of smart fabrics also include wearable medical devices for the consumers as well as health care professionals. These devices are used to monitor the vital signs of patients. They are also used for tracking the location and health status of soldiers and monitoring drivers for fatigue.
Laser printing e-textiles.
The new technology enables graphene supercapacitors. These are powerful and long-lasting energy storage devices. These devices can easily combine with solar or other sources of power so that they can be laser printed onto textiles. The researchers connected the supercapacitors to a solar cell which helped construct a washable, self-powering smart fabric.
Dr. Litty Thekkakara, a researcher in RMIT’s School of Science, said smart textiles with built-in sensing, wireless communication or health monitoring technology called for robust and reliable energy solutions.”Current approaches to smart textile energy storage, like stitching batteries into garments or using e-fibers, can be cumbersome and heavy, and can also have capacity issues,” Thekkakara said.
According to Thekkakara, these electronic components can also suffer short-circuits and mechanical failures when they come in contact with sweat or moisture from the environment. The graphene-based supercapacitor is not fully washable, but it can hold the energy needed to power the garment and can be made in a few minutes at a very large scale. By solving the energy storage problem, the researchers hope to enhance the next generation of wearable technology and smart clothing.