In a new development, researchers have created next-generation smart textiles that comprise LEDs, sensors, energy harvesting, and storage. These smart textiles can be manufactured inexpensively, in any shape or size, using the same machines used to manufacture regular clothing.
Earlier, the team led by the University of Cambridge demonstrated that woven displays can be made in large sizes, but this involved using specialized manual laboratory equipment. On the other hand, smart textiles can be produced in state-of-the-art microelectronic fabrication plants, but these are extremely expensive and generate large volumes of waste.
Nonetheless, further investigation led to the finding that smart fabrics and flexible displays can be manufactured much more inexpensively, and more sustainably, by weaving optoelectronic, electronic, sensing, and other energy fiber components on the same machines used to manufacture conventional textiles.
The findings of the study published in Science Advances demonstrate how smart textiles could be a substitute for electronics across industry sectors, including automotive, fashion, electronics, and construction.
Whilst the development of smart textiles has witnessed progress in recent times, their functionality, shapes, and dimensions have been limited by current manufacturing processes.
“Smart textiles could be fabricated in specialized microelectronics plants, but these would require extremely high investment,” stated the paper’s first author. Additionally, the method limits the manufacture of smart textiles, since all components have to be fabricated on the same rigid wafers used to manufacture integrated circuits, which limits the maximum size to about 30 centimeters in diameter.
The use of smart textiles is also limited by their lack of practicality, stated the co-lead of the research. The sort of bending, folding, and stretching that normal fabric can withstand, it’s been a challenge to integrate the same strength into smart textiles