One of my recurring themes on Health Tech Insider is that wearable technology will have to “disappear” into our daily lives in order to become truly effective. One key development is “functional textiles”: cloth that can perform useful tasks in addition to simply covering and decorating our bodies.

Researchers at Ohio State University have developed a way to embroider electronic circuits on fabric. Their latest process creates circuits with 0.1 mm precision. One of their designs uses a spiral shape as an antenna that can be used to boost cellphone and WiFi signals. They have even incorporated an RFID chip to create a self-powered device on the clothing. The process uses threads that are just 0.1 mm in diameter, with a copper core plated in sliver. The material costs about $.03 per foot, which means that the embroidered antenna can be fabricated using about $.30 of material in about 15 minutes.

The Ohio State team envisions the technology to be used in “smart” caps that can measure brain activity without needing to attach electrodes to the subject. The smart fabrics could also be used to sense signals from wireless implants and then relay that data to a controller for recording and forwarding to the cloud for processing and analysis. This new technique promises to deliver low-cost, flexible, and effective wireless communications for a wide range of Health Tech applications.