News, Technology, Wearables

Wearable Tech: Fabric That Lets You Interact With Technology

Abhinav Raj

Abhinav Raj, Writer

Textile-integrated metamaterials are pushing the frontiers of what’s possible with wearable technology. UC Irvine research explores two use cases for the novel “body area network” in a published study.

Wouldn’t it be great if all of that static electricity in your cardigan could be put to some use—like transmitting a signal to a nearby device to perform a task? 

Engineers at the University of California have pondered the question. In a recent study published in Nature Electronics, scientists at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering explore how advanced metamaterials could be drawn into thin, flexible threads in articles of clothing—enabling one to interact with nearby electrical devices. 

The researchers outline several noteworthy use-cases for the innovative fabric—including using metamaterials to build hospital gowns that monitor the vitals of a patient and weaving a jacket that communicates with the passenger’s vehicle—automatically signalling the car to start the moment they step in. 

Peter Tseng, co-author of the study and Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science explains that the technology relies on the same principle as a charge card reader. 

“If you’ve held your smartphone or charge card close to a reader to pay for a purchase, you have taken advantage of near-field signaling technologies. Our fabrics work on the same principle, but we’ve extended the range significantly,” he stated. 

(Image: Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash)

“This means you could potentially keep your phone in your pocket, and just by brushing your body against other textiles or readers, power and information can be transferred to and from your device.”

The researchers see the potential application of the technology in the sphere of payment processing as well. Lead author of the study Amirhossein Hajiaghajani believes that secure payments can be made possible through the garments through contact—in the fashion of a touch, swipe, or a tap gesture. 

“With our fabric, electronics establish signaling as soon as you hover your clothes over a wireless reader, so you can share information with a simple high-five or handshake,” explained the doctoral student of electrical engineering and computer science at the UCI. 

“You would no longer need to manually unlock your car with a key or separate wireless device, and your body would become the badge to open facility gates.”

The significance of contactless transactions and functions was well learnt amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. In Capgemini’s survey of five thousand customers and a thousand executives from major economies, about 62% of respondents looked forward to embracing touchless technology post-pandemic. 

In a scenario where the outlook of the general public remains largely positive about touchless transactions, metamaterial fabrics may have markets to conquer.

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