Wearable technology is becoming more ubiquitous. Fitbit wearers continuously check how many steps they’ve taken each day, researchers are designing wearables that monitor what one eats, and everyone can play secret agent by taking a phone call with their smartwatch.
Researchers at The Ohio State University are working to advance the field of e-textiles, or clothes with the ability to transmit digital information.
“We started with a technology that is very well known—machine embroidery—and we asked, how can we functionalize embroidered shapes? How do we make them transmit signals at useful frequencies, like for cell phones or health sensors?” said John Volakis, director of the university’s ElectroScience Laboratory, in a statement. “Now, for the first time, we’ve achieved the accuracy of printed metal circuit boards, so our new goal is to take advantage of the precision to incorporate receivers and other electronic components.”
In the fabrication process, thread is substituted with fine silver metal wires. Previously, the researchers weaved a 600-filament count conductive polymer thread that was 0.5 mm in diameter, according to TechCrunch. The new threads are created using only seven threads, which are 0.1-mm in diameter.
“Each filament is copper at the center, enameled with pure silver,” according to the university.
In a test, the six-inch embroidered spiral antennas, which the researchers said may one day be able to broadband cellular and internet communication, successfully transmitted signals from one to five gigahertz.
They estimate the material cost per antenna is around 30 cents, which is 24 times less expensive than the 2014 iteration.
“A revolution is happening in the textile industry,” Volakis said. “We believe that functional textiles are an enabling technology for communications and sensing—and one day even medical applications like imaging and health monitoring.”
The researchers published a paper on the technology in IEEE Antenna and Wireless Propagation Letters.
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