Smart fabric technology integrates sensors and photonics

Jon Lawson

A team led by the University of Cambridge has reported the production of a woven textile display 116cm wide which has sensing, energy and photonic functions embedded into the fabric. Joint project leader Professor Jong min Kim, from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering said, “Our approach is built on the convergence of micro and nanotechnology, advanced displays, sensors, energy and technical textile manufacturing. This is a step towards the full exploitation of sustainable, convenient e-fibres and e-textiles in daily applications. And it’s only the beginning.”

His colleague and co-project leader Dr Luigi Occhipinti added, “By integrating fibre-based electronics, photonic, sensing and energy functionalities, we can achieve a whole new class of smart devices and systems. By unleashing the full potential of textile manufacturing, we could soon see smart and energy-autonomous Internet of Things devices that are seamlessly integrated into everyday objects and many other sector applications.”

To make the stuff weavable, they coated each fibre with materials that can withstand enough stretching so they can be used on textile manufacturing equipment. They also braided some of the fibre-based components to improve the durability. Then the fibres were connected using conductive adhesives and laser welding.

Various interesting applications have been suggested by the researchers, such as buildings that can generate and store their own energy, self-powered clothing and even curtains that can be watched like a television. Also battery technology and solar panels could benefit.

The next stage in the research is to make these techniques suitable for mass production, with more sustainable fibre materials.