Although still in its infancy, the market for smart fabrics and interactive textiles is expected to grow to $1.13 billion in 2010. Participants in the one-day technical symposium “Smart, e-textile solutions” heard from nine speakers about how the textile and electronics markets are working together to bring commercial applications to this growing market.
The military market currently has the greatest demand for these textiles, and those needs are driving innovation. Soldiers need wired technology rather than wireless for security, and textiles become carriers for the technology.
Eric Gans, director of systems engineering, Physical Optics, spoke about the critical role the use of connectors play in construction of garments made of flexible fabrics that carry technology (such as USB connections). Connectors need to perform in many environments and allow for comfort, flexibility and rotation of parts of the garment. The need for a good working relationship between electrical engineers and designers is clear. Leah Buechley, an assistant professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, introduced the participants to the LilyPad Arduino, a kit for prototyping electronic textiles.
Michael Corbet from WEEL Technologies summarized the construction and manufacture of smart garments in terms of putting it all together:
- Start at the end. Understand the customer’s needs and expectations, and be sure the product meets the needed life expectancy.
- Design for the most extreme environment. For example, how cold will it be, will it be washed, and in what kind of repetitive functions will the garment be used?
- Keep it simple. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.
Despina Papadopoulos from Studio 5050 inspired participants to think about the idea of “social fabric”: bringing together the physical and virtual body with a social network.