Graphene and Novel Innovations Hold Key of Futuristic Smart Textiles

Clothing is one of the three basic needs for human life. Since the primitive age, man has been using textile for clothing in the forms of sailcloth, tent, ropes, and other protective garments. However, back then, textile was used only for technical performance. Today, technology has become so advanced and adaptive that there are materials that sense and react accordingly to changes in environmental conditions or external stimuli including thermal, mechanical, electrical, and magnetic.

Introduction of smart textile is the era in the technology that is still unexplored and for some, a new way to live their science-fiction fantasies. Smart textiles are fabrics that are designed to include technologies that offer the wearer with increased functionality. Increase in the standard of living, awareness of safety and environmentalism, and expanding automotive sector have boosted the growth of the smart textile market. According to a research firm, Allied Market Research, the global smart textile market is expected to reach $5,369 million by 2022, at a CAGR of 28.4% during 2016–2022.

Graphene: Wonder material in smart textile industry

In the quest to create mass-produced, affordable, and durable smart textiles, graphene has become a wonder material. Currently, wearable electronics are achieved by gluing electronic components, which usually leads to malfunctioning. However, a recently published research offers a novel way, by integrating the electronic devices into the fabric itself. A team of scientists lead by Prof. Monica Craciun from the University of Exeter Engineering department have presented an innovative way to create electronic fibers that can be incorporated into the manufacturing of everyday clothing.

The team used graphene to integrate electronic devices into the fabric by coating electronic fibers with only lightweight and durable components that could allow images on the fabric. According to the research team, this discovery could revolutionize the wearable electronic devices in healthcare monitoring such as heart rate, blood pressure.

At the scale of an atom, graphene is considered as the thinnest substance that is capable of conducting electricity. Moreover, graphene is flexible as well as the strongest material known. The research used existing polypropylene fibers–which are comely used in commercial applications in the textile industry–to attach graphene-based electronic fibers to create light-emitting and touch-sensor devices without any need of electrodes or wires.

Smart textile to deliver medications

Technological innovations in the textile industry have been aiming at improving the quality of human lives. A textile startup, TexDel, has recently created a smart textile using nylon and polyester that can deliver the active ingredients into the wearer’s body.

Founder of TexDel, Jordan Schindler, developed a brand of wool socks and has launched the world’s first anti-pain medication sock. They are named Kentwool SensationWool and are developed for those who need temporary relief from muscle and joint pain or suffer from sprains, bruises, cramps, or pain. These are made with capsaicin-infused yarn and ultra-fine merino wool using the company’s self-developed Nufabrx technology. The technology incorporates fiber-active ingredients that are programmed for effective, predictable, effective, washable, and durable release. However, the major ingredient is capsaicin, which is regarded as a topical analgesic.

Recently, the company was awarded $1 million from Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), a private-public partnership led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The award supports the manufacturing scale if TexDel’s technology for controlled delivery of ingredients via textile.

Clothes that track heart rate

Kymira, a smart textile company, has launched a prototype of t-shirts that can monitor the wearer’s heart rate to help lower the risk of heart attacks among athletes. The firm developed athleisure that wirelessly transmits a wearer’s heart rate to a smartphone using Bluetooth and can detect irregular heart rhythm that may lead to a cardiac attack.

These clothes are designed such that the electrodes are printed onto the t-shirt’s sleeves fabric feed and the processing unit transmits the ECG data to the smartphone. The company has developed an algorithm that processes the data and filters out the noise to detect unusual heartbeats. Kymira expects the Athleisure line to hit the shelves in the market by the end of 2020.

Tim Brownstone, CEO and founder of Kymira, stated, “We hope that this product would be used for clinical purposes to help those who suffer from a chronic heart condition and warn them about possible cardiac arrest.” Apart from ECG, the sportswear also helps to maintain body temperature to enhance the athlete’s performance. Using minerals that are embedded into the fabric, energy is produced by the body during exercise, which re-emit themselves as infrared energy into muscles. As per Kymira, this process rises tissue oxygen level by about 20% and help ease the pain to reduce post-exercise muscles soreness.

The 21st century is full of novel innovations to improve human lifestyle and the development of woven fabrics that can be integrated with technology would bring revolution in the textile industry. In fact, don’t be shocked if, in future, your hand gloves heat up in cold by simple commands or clothes change colors according to the beats of the music while dancing. Why? Because in the era of smart textile, anything can happen will happen!