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Battery-Free Smart Fabrics to Monitor Health

Battery-Free Smart Fabrics to Monitor Health

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a technique to create smart garments that can harvest electrical power from nearby Wi-Fi networks and radio waves in a process known as magnetic resonance coupling. This power can then be used to energize on-board electrical systems, including body monitors. The fabrics are water repellent, breathable, and fully machine washable, making them practical for use in everyday life.

The myriad of already existing wearable devices are making it easier to monitor health on the move, and can typically communicate wirelessly with smartphones. However, they usually require a battery that needs to be regularly charged or replaced, and they certainly can’t be washed in a washing machine like conventional clothing. This latest technology blurs the line between wearable health monitors and regular clothing, and the researchers behind it envisage a day when we all wear ‘smart garments’.

The technology involves sewing omniphobic silk-based coils, which consist of a silk-nanocarbon composite, into fabrics. The coils harvest energy, and are stretchy and lightweight. The researchers also spray the fabrics with hydrophobic molecules to make them water repellent.  

“By spray-coating smart clothes with highly hydrophobic molecules, we are able to render them repellent to water, oil and mud,” said Ramses Martinez, a researcher involved in the study, in a Purdue press release. “These smart clothes are almost impossible to stain and can be used underwater and washed in conventional washing machines without damaging the electronic components sewn on their surface.”

The coating does not make the clothing restrictive, and the garments retain flexibility and breathability. Excitingly, they can be machine washed with no loss of function. Another positive is the scalability of the technology, which can be manufactured in large-scale sewing facilities.

“Such wearable devices, powered by ubiquitous Wi-Fi signals, will make us not only think of clothing as just a garment that keeps us warm but also as wearable tools designed to help us in our daily life, monitor our health and protect us from accidents,” said Martinez. “I envision smart clothes will be able to transmit information about the posture and motion of the wearer to mobile apps, allowing machines to understand human intent without the need of other interfaces, expanding the way we communicate, interact with devices, and play video games.”

See some videos showing off the new technology below:

Study in Nano Energy: Washable, breathable, and stretchable e-textiles wirelessly powered by omniphobic silk-based coils

Via: Purdue University

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