Cotton and graphene

We have often made the point that wearable Health Tech devices must “disappear” into our lives if they are going to get widespread adoption. If users have to fuss with connectors and recharging and data transfers and other tasks, they will soon grow tired of a device and stop using it, even if it’s producing useful results. We have made great progress with smart clothing, but we still have a long way to go. For example, Sensoria makes socks and shirts with integrated sensors but you still have to clip on an electronics controller to get information from those sensors.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. may have come up with an important next step in creating smart garments. They have found a way to impregnate standard cotton fabric with graphene (the “wonder” material sheets of carbon only one atom thick). Using graphene-based inks, they are can make the fabric conductive while remaining flexible. They found that treating the textile with heat improved the conductivity of the material. The process is inexpensive, and does not require toxic materials.

The group has created a motion sensor in fabric using this process. This approach makes it possible to fabricate electronic systems directly in the clothing. Their prototype detected up to 500 motion cycles even after having been washed ten times in a standard washing machine. This environmentally-friendly and potentially low-cost system could lead to smart garments with all components integrated into the fabric. The task of wearing your Health Tech monitoring devices could be as simple as getting dressed.