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The Next Fashion Trend: Computerized Clothing

Imagine if the next jacket you purchased had a phone incorporated into its lapels, and your sleeve answered the call. Computerized clothing is the next big step in making electronics portable without the added weight to our pockets or the irritation of plastic and metal against our bodies. The goal of designers is to create electronic garments and textiles that look, feel, wash, and wear like ordinary clothing.

The Smart Clothes project started at Georgia Tech in 1996 where a shirt was designed for soldiers in combat. The “smart shirt” could find the exact location of a bullet wound by sending a light signal from one end of the optical fiber to a receiver worn on the soldier’s hip. If the light signal did not reach the receiver, this indicated that the soldier had been shot. From there, the signal would be rerouted back through the fiber to the penetration point to inform doctors where the wound was located.

Now, companies such as Levi, Nike, IBM, and Philips are using this concept to create smart clothes that accommodate changes in weather. Julian Vincent, biometrics department head at the University of Bath’s center in England, said, “We’ve all known days when the weather alters quickly, and it’s difficult to dress to match the changing temperature. The new smart clothing will make all that unnecessary.”

The latest smart shirt monitors body temperature and heart and respiration rates through two types of sensors: one set integrated into the shirt and the other attached to the wearer’s body. When the wearer feels hot, flaps in the shirt automatically open so outside air can get through and cool the body. As the body’s temperature decreases, the flaps close again.

“It’s the material itself that is responding, so it’s only in the areas where you’re a bit hot and sweaty that it’s going to open up,” Vincent said. To prevent outside moisture from getting to the skin through the opened flaps, a waterproof second layer is added.

As with all clothes, computerized apparel starts with the proper thread. While cotton, polyester, and rayon are commonly used, they are not able to transport the electrical current needed for computerized clothing. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s media lab use silk organza—ideal because its fibers are good conductors of electricity and spaced far enough apart to be individually addressed.

Construction starts with a silk yarn on the warp, and it ends with a silk yarn wrapped in copper foil, running in the opposite direction, on the weft. Copper, a very durable and electrical conductor, is ideal for mass production because it can withstand high temperatures and the power of industrial machines. If the circuits were to touch each other, however, the garment could short-circuit and deactivate the sensors. To prevent this, scientists coat the yarns with an insulating material. The final components needed—such as resistors, capacitors, and coils—are soldered directly onto the fabric.

With every experiment scientists are closer to marketing whole computers made from materials people are comfortable wearing. Once smart clothing is public ready, there’s no telling how this innovative clothing will change the fashion industry.

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Silhouette Gazette-The Next Fashion Tren
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