In stage shows, light control, music and apparels of the artists are key factors. e-textiles easily ensure light control, illusion and communication required for stage shows. The first e-textile-based stage show was held in 1990 by a group of students from MIT Massachusetts. They developed artistic applications for electronics, such as a micro music playing system and apparels that change colour when their sensors are alerted.

There are many new ideas coming in, especially in the area of mobile phones. A team of scientists from South Carolina, headed by Xiaodong Li, is busy developing a t-shirt that can recharge mobile phones. This t-shirt consists of an interwoven piece of e-cloth with its yarns acting as electrodes. With these electrodes, the researchers were able to turn the fabric into several capacitors capable of storing electric charge. The circuit of the e-cloth even consists of microsensors that can absorb body heat and heat of the room.

Material aspects

There are innumerable materials, from conductors to insulators, and from magnetic to non-magnetic. Materials that meet most of the demands of e-textile components should be selected.

Piezoelectric materials are of great use in e-textiles. A flexible memory fabric can be made of platinum and woven copper and copper oxide wires that form the memory circuit.

One of the focus areas of e-textile research is better material for e-yarns. Presently, an e-textile group is investigating a special polymer fibre for different uses. These polymers can act as batteries or as chemical sensors. They can even change their colour for disguise, helping soldiers to deceive enemy troops or create illusion.

Way to go

There is vast scope for research in various segments of e-textiles, including computing architecture and communication networks in fabrics.

Not just the hardware is enough. You need better software to operate them. So the researchers are working to develop software services necessary for almost all e-textile applications. Modelling and simulation tools are also underway.

Use of embedded system and distributed computing is expected to significantly improve e-textile applications. Embedding electronic components like sensors and microcontrollers in fabrics is sometimes called fibre electronics.

For many technological revolutions to be successful, implementation of present trends is largely required. That is where e-textile is heading for. Optimising energy usage, solar technology, hybrid energy systems, touchbuttons and screens are some of the hottest areas of research in e-textile segment also.

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This article was first published on 4th March 2015.

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