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WEARABLE TECH & BIOMETRICS FEATURE


CLOTHED IN POWER The potential of E-yarns


Words by Christian Lynn, editor of Electronics E


mbedding technology into various unforeseen applications has become commonplace for the electronics industry; each application brings components closer to us, particularly in the market of wearables – on the wrist or over the eyes, in the form of smart watches and glasses. But now, research is trying on a new application for size – electronic textiles, or E-yarns. What originally seemed like an


“This new


hardware imparts increased functionality, complementary to pre- existing technologies and textiles”


idea that Philip K. Dick might dream up is slowly being weaved into reality, thanks to the studies of the Nottingham rent University’s Advanced T


fiction aura of it has, ironically, given way to an expectation of invisibility, as opposed to clunky enclosures clipped onto connected clothing. That’s not to say that visibility shouldn’t be considered, for a dress or shirt that demands illumination for example. Both are equally possible, as the ATRG prioritises the application and what it requires. This then leads to a process of evolution: the creation of the E-yarn, leading to a prototype garment for final testing.


DISRUPTIVE OR DECISIVE?


hanks to the studies of the Nottingham Trent University’s Advanced Textiles Research Group (ATRG); with £1.3 million of investment, the group looks to pave


complex electronic circuitry within the fabric.


SUMMING UP THE FUNCTION But how exactly do E-yarns work?


But how exactly do E-yarns work? Building on the aforementioned statement of intent – to embed the micro-electronic components


he micro-electronic components into the textile – the process by which this is achieved,


firstly, involves the soldering of said components onto fine copper wires. These are then individually


said components onto fine copper wires. These are then individually encapsulated within a polymer micro-pod, along with supporting fibres, to protect the components from


micro-pod, along with supporting fibres, to protect the components from mechanical and chemical stresses, and from domestic washing and drying. Finally, t


from domestic washing and drying. Finally, the ensemble is covered in an outer fibrous sheath.


Despite all of this design work, the main advantage is the transparent nature of it: the integrated technology cannot be seen or felt by the user. This is essential for textile applications, like a microphone or temperature sensor, whereby the user experience is


ure of it: the integrated technology cannot be seen or felt by the user. This is essential for textile applications, like a microphone or temperature sensor, whereby the user experience is expected to be seamless – the science expected to be seamless – the science


/ ELECTRONICS


Research Group (ATRG); with £1.3 million of investment, the group looks to pave the way for wearable computers, for example, by enabling the integration ofexample, by enabling the int complex electronic circuitry within


One could err on the side of caution, as these technologies could disrupt the industry. Yes, the commercialisation of technology within wearable textiles is admirable. But could this disruption lead to obsolescence, particularly with devices such as patient monitoring systems: if the textile has this technology integrated, the need for a separate


One could err on the side of caution, as these technologies could disrupt the industry. Yes, the commercialisation of technology within wearable textiles is admirable. But could this disruption lead to obsolescence, particularly with devices such as patient monitoring systems: if the textile has this technology integrated, the need for a separate agent is superfluous.


And yet, Dr. Theodore Hughes- Riley sees the obsolescence of these devices as a necessary evil, for the application benefits from a closer relationship to the patient, in the literal sense. He argues that for “certain applications, electronic textiles are the perfect substrate to integrate electronics; health monitoring devices are a great example as the sensors need to be allocated very close to the skin.”


And yet, Dr. Theodore Hughes- Riley sees the obsolescence of these devices as a necessary evil, for the application benefits from a closer relationship to the patient, in the


textiles are the perfect substrate to integrate electronics; health monitoring devices are a great example as the sensors need to be allocated very close to the skin.”


Therefore, this new hardware imparts increased functionality, complementary to pre-existing technologies and textiles. E-yarns will look to seal the two separate entities together – the application, wearable yet separate, and the clothing that is sported daily, yet remains detached from our t


goals of Nottingham Trent University is to create and disseminate new knowledge on how to close this gap.


Therefore, this new hardware impart increased functionality, complementary to pre-existing technologies and textiles. E-yarns will look to seal the two separate entities together – the application, wearable yet separate, and the clothing that is sported daily, yet remains detached from our technological output. As an institution, one of the main goals of Nottingham Trent University is to create and disseminate new knowledge on how t


SAFETY FIRST There’s always the initial spark of excitement when a new idea gets out of first gear and drives confidently into the market. But, as regulations become stricter, intended to prevent harm through the use of such sensitive systems, the university study had to affirm the welfare of the user, particularly as the adverse effects of electromagnetic interference (EMI) are more manifest now than before. Moreover, distractions are a common concern, as a result of the invasive use of smart devices on the go. But Dr. Hughes-Riley does not see any immediate cause for unease. Firstly, the monitoring of health is the key focus here. As such, the electronic functionality of the textiles themselves would not really interact with or distract the user: they’re merely observers, following up on the feedback at their discretion. But what of an embedded microphone, an idea put into practice by the study? Hughes-Riley says, “the example of the embedded microphone was originally developed to monitor noise exposure…we do not foresee how this would act as more of a distraction than a mobile phone.” The solution to quelling distraction has yet to come to fruition, but the situation won’t be worsened. But what of EMC? There’s reassurance


that the devices operate at low power, a facet that has become fact for many systems. As such, the interference with other products is unlikely. But Hughes- Riley ensures us that “the necessary tests to ensure compliance with regulations” will be undertaken by the research group. This is a working progress after all, slowly being stitched together to suggest a more futuristic reality for the items that we take for granted.


Nottingham Trent University www.ntu.ac.uk


ELECTRONICS | MARCH 2020 35


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