Single-material status changing Historically, fabrics have not done a lot for people—be-

yond providing warmth and shelter—because they have been made of a single material. They have been limited the same way forks and coffee cups have been. “Fabrics are made of fibers, and fibers were always made of a single material,” Fink noted. To take fabrics to a new level, MIT scientists combined the basic ingredients of technology—metal, insulators and semiconductors—and chose to not just layer them in but grow them. “We said, ‘Let’s draw them, because drawing gives you scale,” Fink said.

could take electrical energy and convert it to some other form of energy, or vice versa.” (Piezoelectricity means power resulting from pressure.) In the last year, manufacturers working on wearable medical devices have made big strides by using technol- ogy that prints circuitry onto fabric, said Jeffrey Rasmus- sen, market research manager at the Industrial Fabrics Association International. “In the past, sensors and circuitry embedded into fabric

were too big and too clunky,” he said. “Manufacturers have been able to make them miniaturized, more stretchable and comfortable.”

Fiber devices are created using a “preform” of materials like a large glass rod resembling an oversized model of the desired fiber. The preform is heated and pulled into a thin fiber. The materials inside the preform are unchanged even though the preform’s dimensions are drastically reduced.

In addition to being employed as sensors, the coming

fiber devices might find uses as modulators and even pro- ducers of light, sound, temperature and other environmen- tal conditions. They could be used in telecommunications and imaging laser applications. They could be woven to make solar cell fabric. The devices are likely to someday be available to be used as energy generation and storage capacitors and antennas. They could be able to hear and deliver sound. And they could be used to create energy-saving filters for vehicles, as well as uniforms that can regulate temperature and detect threats like chemical and radioactive elements. “The important thing is to realize that in order to create function, you need to combine different materials together into a device,” Fink said. “And invariably these involve semiconductors or Piezoelectrics if you are dealing with acoustic waves. We are talking about combinations of materials that could transport charge with materials that


Devices now entering the market have sensors that

measure sophisticated physiological parameters, such as 2-lead EKG and pulse oximetry, Dale Robinson, business development director at EWI, said. Circuitry and biosen- sors printed onto fabric and worn close to the heart and lungs for monitoring a person’s pulse and/or respiration rate tend to be more reliable than those worn on the wrist. Smart fabrics maker Eeonyx has developed a patented

formulation that allows it to apply conductive polymer coatings to textiles, fibers, and yarns—making them sensi- tive to touch, Rasmussen said. Eeonyx in 2014 partnered with BeBop Sensors, which uses

co-designed proprietary Eeonyx smart fabric to create flex- ible electronics/circuits that can be incorporated into a single piece of fabric. Using DuPont designed conductive inks, Be- Bop Sensors’ stretchable circuits can be printed onto fabric. Members of AFFOA will be taking textiles even further— by baking electronics into fabrics.

Summer 2016 Courtesy MIT

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