Are you wearing your smart home hub? A team of engineering researchers at Purdue University have a vision of future smart garments as masterminds that integrate and control every aspect of your life, from your car to home security to health tracking. The research team developed a process that turns an ordinary garment into an electronic device powered by radio and Wi-Fi signals.
Lots of effort has gone into new solutions for smart textiles in recent years. Most of this effort centers around a few fundamental concerns: power source, durability, and laundry. For smart garments to take off with consumers, they need to be affordable to manufacture, worth their purchasing cost, easy and cheap to power, comfortable, and not just washable but machine washable. (Who has time for hand washing these days?)
The Purdue team sewed tiny, flexible silk-based electronic coils into existing garments. The coils use omnidirectional magnetic resonance coupling to harvest wireless energy from all directions. The efficiency of this method allows the coils to continually gather power for the garment as the wearer moves through the world.
To solve the laundry issue, the engineers spray-coated the garments with fluorinated molecules. This process results in waterproof, stain-resistant clothes that remain breathable and can withstand repeated wash, rinse, and spin cycles. To test the process, the team added LED lights to electronic stitching in the shape of a bicycle that — after spray-coating — worked even after washing.
The researchers also used the silk-based coils connected to a pulse sensor as a washable wristband. The sensor uses infrared light to detect changes in blood volume, a process known as photoplethysmography.
The engineering team published their findings in the journal Nano Energy.