A research project led by Nottingham Trent University plans to build the first wearable computer through a manufacturing process that will embed complex electronic circuitry into fabric yarns.
The university’s Advanced Textiles Research Group (ATRG) has been given £1.3m to advance the technology, which will ultimately enter industrial scale. The research group – which has already pioneered technologies such as clothes embedded with solar cells to charge wearable devices – will develop the process for creating electronic yarns, or e-yarns, over the next three years.
“Complex e-yarns circuitry will enable us to develop wearable electronics as sophisticated as computers, and seeing them on the open market,” said Professor Tilak Dias, who leads the ATRG. “It could literally mean that, in the future, a t-shirt or a jacket could be used as a mobile phone.”
The garments will still behave like any other form of clothing, being fully washable and wearable, with the electronic circuitry not noticeable or uncomfortable. “But, embedded into the yarn of the fabrics would be high-tech electronics which can monitor heart rate, blood-oxygen levels, be used as a communications device, and a lot more,” added Professor Dias.
The project will focus on developing prototype demonstrators, tested by industrial partners. The goal is to create a pilot production line to demonstrate the technology at scale, and high speeds and low costs, in tune with the needs of industrial high-volume productions. “The project will enable private companies for the first time to consider the realistic prospect of manufacturing these electronic textiles in high volumes, which have the potential to change people’s lives,” said Dr Theodore Hughes-Riley, from Nottingham Trent University.
E-yarns can revolutionise the textile’s industry, but also those of medicine, defence, aerospace, performance sports, automotive and even fashion.