Editor’s Blog: Universities research how material can respond to conditions

Challenging the very fabric of our thinking about wearables, two university projects have experimented with polymers, weave, and weft to create materials that have a multitude of practical uses, writes Caroline Hayes.
Research programmes into smart fabric which respond to heat offer new ways to deal with bumps and scrapes with material that shape shifts for self-repair.
The first project is Canada’s University of Waterloo, where a team has developed a smart material, believed to be the first to respond to two different stimuli –  heat and electricity.
The ability to respond to two different stimuli opens up potential applications for clothing which can warm up when the wearer goes from one environment to another. An example would be clothes that can warm up on the walk to work on a cold winter morning.
The smart material is made from polymer nano-composite fibres, created from recycled plastics. The resulting combination of engineered polymer composites and stainless steel can change its colour and shape when stimuli is applied. For non-wearable applications, it can be used in vehicle design, for example for car bumpers to regain their original shape after a collision.

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Editors Blog – E-textiles see material growth

E-textiles can be used in multiple sectors, not just the obvious healthcare and fitness, but also in military, workwear and heated clothing, writes Caroline Hayes

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Editors Blog – Finalist choice is music to our chest

One of the finalist in the UNESCO Netexplo Forum this month lets deaf people feel music to become immersed in performances, writes Caroline Hayes

Among the winners of the Netexplo Awards at the Innovation Forum taking place at UNESCO this month (17 – 19 April) will be the SoundShirt, developed by interactive London fashion house, CuteCircuit, in conjunction with the Junge Symphoniker Hamburg orchestra.

CuteCircuit was founded in 2004 by former Valentino designer, Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz, who was a fellow student at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (IDII), the Italian research institute for interaction design.

The long sleeved shirt (Figure 1) can be worn by hearing-impaired audience members to let them feel music through the connected garment.


Figure 1: The SoundShirt by CuteCircuit (Picture: CuteCircuit)

Using haptic technology, the shirt has 16 micro-actuators embedded in the SoundShirt. Microphones around and behind the orchestra can pick up eight different instrument types. The musical sounds are translated into data by software and sent wirelessly to actuators in the shirt – all in real time.  Each instrument is tuned to actuators on particular parts of the shirt, so the wearer can feel violins or drums on that part of their body. (See Figure 2) It creates, says CuteCircuit, an immersive feeling for a deaf audience member.


Figure 2: Diagram showing where microphones are placed to relay music to actuators on the SoundShirt. (Picture: CuteCircuit)

Haptic sensations are transmitted across the torso, arms or chest, depending on the instrument and intensity of playing.

The shirt is made of a soft, stretch fabric with conductive, electrical pathways woven in. Decorative elements in the first prototype were precision laser cut appliqués, subsequent versions replaced the appliqué areas with high resolution digital fabric printing in a design mimicking vibration and modulating sound waves.

The design team built on its earlier HugShirt, a haptic shirt that sends and receives hugs. This earlier wearable tech design has concentric circuits digitally printed at strategic ‘hugging points’ where embedded sensors can be touched by the wearer. Data about the location and intensity of the touch are sent via Bluetooth to the HugShirt app which records the hug and sends it on to the intended recipient’s phone. If only one of the separated huggers has a HugShirt, the ‘shirtless one’ can create a hug with the software and send it to be received in its tactile fullness by their loved one wearing the HugShirt.

As well as mushy youngsters in love, the HugShirt can also be used to dispel loneliness in the elderly or parents separated from their families. CuteCircuits reports that in its development phase, research found that people need to be touched at least 70 times a day, ranging from a handshake to a friendly hug. 

This month’s UNESCO event will also host presentations around the theme of education, including ‘Why, What and How should we Learn in the 21st Century?’ and ‘An Inspiring Vision for AI in Africa’ by Mustapha Cissé, Research Scientist and Head of Google AI Center, Accra.

On days two and three, sessions will address Smart Cities looking at challenges and solutions for mobility, energy, and surveillance in connected cities of the future. The programme has been produced with ESCP Europe, Peking University, Shanghai Jaio Tong University and Télécom ParisTech.


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Electronics turns its hand to the textile industry 

There is a lot of attention paid to ‘smart’ sportswear using wearable technology, but one company is using textile technology to develop fabrics for industrial uses, says Caroline Hayes

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