Draw the drapes and watch TV on them. Let your carpet power your home electronics. Tell your shirt to send messages to your friend’s socks. Sure, all that sounds a bit like an off-the-wall sci-fi movie, but multifunction smart textiles aren’t just a futuristic fantasy anymore. 

Researchers have been exploring all sorts of textile displays in recent years, such as these electroluminescent yarns developed by scientists in China. Now, an international research team has embedded active electronic, sensing, energy, and photonic functions directly into a woven smart textile display.

The team, led by the University of Cambridge, has developed a 46-inch woven display with integrated smart sensors, energy harvesting technology, and digital storage. These fiber-based electronic devices are manufactured via industrial textile processes. The team published their research findings in the journal nature communications in February.

To create yarns that can withstand industrial weaving, the team coated each fiber with flexible, stretchable materials. They also braided some fibers to enhance durability, and applied conductive adhesives and laser welding to connect fiber components. These adjustments allowed the team to incorporate multiple functionalities into a woven smart fabric. The researchers believe that commercial rolls of the smart fabric could be produced with standard, scalable industrial weaving techniques.

eTextiles have potential for broad application, such as contributing to smart, self-powered buildings, distributed sensor networks, and interactive wearable displays. Healthcare wearables made of such fabrics could revolutionize vitals monitoring, remote patient monitoring, and potentially even digital therapeutics.

The research team believes their work could evolve to include flexible, self-powered batteries, supercapacitors, and other non-fabric devices. Ongoing development of the woven display focuses on tailoring the technology for use in everyday objects and integrating sustainable materials.