Holst Centre LED fabric

One of the problems with wearable Health Tech devices is that they tend to be small. In fact, the smaller they are, the better because they are more likely to “disappear” into the wearer’s daily life. But as we’ve discussed before, this does not provide much “real estate” for information display. As a result, many wearables rely on small indicator lights to signal power levels or alerts or other information. Some may have small displays that can show the time or other limited information. Researchers at the Holst Centre in Eindhoven, the Netherlands have come up with a possible solution.

Most people think of LEDs as the little light sources used for power indicators or backlights for LCD panels. New technology makes it possible to fabricate extremely small LEDs, opening up new applications. At the Holst Centre, researchers have created an active-matrix backplane for LEDs (similar to what is used to switch LCD pixels on and off) and built it on a plastic substrate encased in rubber. The result is a flexible panel that can be laminated onto fabric. The result is a washable, flexible display. The best of all, it can be made using standard fabrication processes so manufacturers should be able to put it into production quickly.

Obviously, the technology has potential in fashion applications; imagine a glowing dress that changes color (maybe the “fire dress” that Katniss wore in “Hunger Games”?) or a t-shirt that has changeable messages or even animated images? But this could have even more applications for health and medical uses. Imagine hospital gowns that gave a summary of a patient’s condition at a glance, glowing green or blue if everything is okay, orange or red if immediate attention is required, along with specific information about relevant vital signs. Or for a more mundane use, providing a readout for all sorts of wearable device data, from text message and phone call alerts to pulse rate and blood oxygen levels. This is one more case of a new technology that is ready to make all sorts of new products and services possible.