Future Intricacies and Potential of Smart Textiles
Wearable technology has been a game-changer in the healthcare industry. According to a report by Allied Market Research, the global wearable medical device market is projected to reach $27.4 billion by 2027.
From monitoring vital signs to tracking physical activity, wearable devices have allowed unprecedented insights into patients' health. However, the limitations of traditional wearables have spurred the development of a new generation of health-monitoring tools: smart textiles.
Intelligent textiles are designed to integrate sensors and electronic components directly into the material, allowing for continuous, unobtrusive monitoring of vital signs and other physiological parameters. Unlike traditional wearable devices, which can be uncomfortable and cumbersome to wear, smart textiles can be seamlessly integrated into everyday clothing or specialized medical garments, making them a versatile tool for healthcare professionals.
In this article, we’ll explore the intricacies and potential of smart textiles, focusing on the materials, technologies, and sensors involved in their development. We’ll also look at the applications of smart textiles beyond healthcare and discuss future advancements and challenges in the field.
Materials used in Smart Textiles
Smart textiles are made from a variety of materials, each with its own unique properties and applications. One of the key features of smart textiles is their ability to conduct electricity, which enables them to transmit data from embedded sensors. Conductive materials can be woven directly into the fabric or applied as a coating. Examples of conductive materials used in smart textiles include conductive yarns, metal wires, and graphene.
In addition to conductive materials, smart textiles may also incorporate other types of materials that enable specific functionalities. For example, stretchable materials can be used in wearables to improve comfort and flexibility, while waterproof materials can protect electronic components from moisture and sweat. Materials used in some forms of smart textiles are able to alter their appearance in response to environmental factors such as temperature and pH.
The choice of materials used in smart textiles can have a significant impact on their properties and performance. For example, a textile with a high degree of conductivity may be more effective at transmitting data from sensors, while a highly elastic material may be more comfortable to wear. As a result, researchers and manufacturers must carefully consider the properties of different materials when designing smart textiles. One emerging area of research in this field is the development of biocompatible materials that are safe to use in medical applications and can be worn directly on the skin.
Potential Applications of Smart Textiles
Smart textiles have enormous potential beyond healthcare and are already being implemented in various fields, including sports, fashion, and the military. Listed below are a few possible applications of smart textiles.
A. Sports Smart textiles have found their way into the sports industry in recent years, providing athletes with real-time monitoring of their physical activity. These textiles can track various parameters such as heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature, providing coaches and trainers with valuable data to optimize an athlete’s performance. According to a report by ResearchAndMarkets, the global smart textile market in sports and fitness is expected to reach $5.5 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 30.4% during the forecast period from 2019 to 2024.
Nike, for instance, has developed a smart sports bra equipped with sensors that monitor an athlete’s performance during workouts. Similarly, Under Armour’s “UA Athlete Recovery Sleepwear” uses bioceramic technology to aid in post-workout recovery. As Kevin Haley, President of Innovation at Under Armour, stated, “We are constantly exploring ways to empower athletes with new tools and insights that improve their performance and recovery.”
B. Fashion Smart textiles have also made their way into the fashion industry, providing designers with new materials and technologies to create innovative clothing and accessories.
CuteCircuit’s “Hug Shirt” uses Bluetooth technology and sensors to allow people to send hugs to one another from afar. As Francesca Rosella, co-founder of CuteCircuit, explained: “We want to add a new sense to our communication, the sense of touch, and by doing so, we want to enhance the emotional communication between people, to make people feel closer, even when they are far away.” When you contact the red places on the Hug Shirt, your phone gets the sensor data (hug pressure, skin temperature, pulse rate, time you’ve been hugging, etc.) through Bluetooth and sends it to the other person.
Google and Levi’s “Commuter Trucker Jacket,” which allows users to control their phone through touch-enabled fibers woven into the jacket’s sleeve, Paul Dillinger, VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi’s, stated: “our goal is to create a product that is so useful, you can’t imagine going through your day without it.”
Ralph Lauren’s “PoloTech Shirt” uses sensors to track the wearer’s heart rate, breathing rate, and other biometric data. As David Lauren, Executive Vice President at Ralph Lauren, said, “Ralph Lauren continues to be at the forefront of fashion and culture.” “Our goal is to create and reflect the ultimate lifestyle, and we believe that a healthy and active life is an essential part of that.”
C. Military Smart textiles have also shown potential in military applications, providing soldiers with improved protection and communication capabilities. For instance, the U.S. Army has developed a smart uniform called the “Integrated Warfighter System” that integrates sensors to monitor the wearer’s vital signs, body position, and environmental conditions. This uniform can also monitor the health and performance of soldiers in the field, allowing for real-time adjustments to be made. According to a report by Global Market Insights, the global smart textile market in military and defense is expected to reach $1.9 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 11.7% during the forecast period from 2019 to 2025.
Future Advancements in Smart Textiles
As smart textiles continue to evolve, there is enormous potential for advancements in their materials, technologies, and applications. There will likely be a number of advances in the field of smart textiles.
Self-healing materials are smart textiles that are capable of repairing themselves when damaged, providing longer-lasting durability.
Advanced energy-harvesting smart textiles are capable of generating energy from the surrounding environment, reducing the need for external power sources.
Augmented reality: smart textiles that can incorporate augmented reality technology, allowing for interactive and immersive experiences
Integration with AI: Smart textiles that can integrate with artificial intelligence, providing real-time data analysis and decision-making capabilities
Smart textiles have a vast potential for various applications in industries such as healthcare, sports, fashion, and the military. Research and development in this field are continuously evolving, and future advancements are expected to provide more functionalities and benefits. Here are some of the most promising areas of advancement in the field:
Nanotechnology: Nanotechnology is increasingly being used to create advanced materials with unique properties that can enhance the performance of smart textiles. Researchers are exploring the use of nanofibers, nanotubes, and other nanomaterials to develop fabrics with enhanced strength, durability, and water resistance. They can also be used to create conductive materials that can improve the sensing capabilities of smart textiles. According to a report by ResearchAndMarkets, the global nanotechnology market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.5% from 2020 to 2027.
Energy Harvesting: One of the major challenges of smart textiles is providing a sustainable power source to operate the sensors and other electronic components. Energy harvesting technologies offer a promising solution, as they can convert ambient energy into electrical energy. For example, piezoelectric materials can convert mechanical energy from body movement into electrical energy, which can power sensors and other components. According to a report by Allied Market Research, the global energy harvesting market is expected to reach $1.15 billion by 2025.
Biometric sensing: Biometric sensing technology can be used to measure a range of vital signs, including heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. Future advancements in biometric sensing could allow for real-time monitoring of health and wellness metrics, leading to more personalized and effective healthcare. For example, researchers at MIT have developed a smart textile that can measure heart rate and respiratory rate in real-time, providing a non-invasive way to monitor vital signs.
Communication: Smart textiles can be used to enhance communication in a variety of contexts. For example, firefighters could use smart textiles to communicate with each other in hazardous environments, or athletes could use them to communicate with coaches or teammates during training and competition.
Challenges in the Field of Smart Textiles
While the potential applications of smart textiles are exciting, several challenges need to be addressed to realize their full potential. Here are some of the key challenges in the field of smart textiles:
Power: One of the primary challenges of smart textiles is providing a sustainable power source to operate the sensors and other electronic components. Traditional batteries can be bulky and cumbersome, and energy-harvesting technologies are still in the early stages of development. According to a report by MarketsandMarkets, the global wearable power sources market is expected to reach $2.8 billion by 2025.
Standardization: There are currently no widely accepted standards for testing the durability, washability, and other properties of smart textiles. This can make it difficult for manufacturers to ensure the quality of their products and for consumers to compare different brands. The lack of standardization can also limit the adoption of smart textiles in various industries.
Cost: Smart textiles can be expensive to produce, which can limit their availability and accessibility to consumers. The cost of manufacturing smart textiles is higher than traditional textiles due to the use of advanced materials and technologies.
Privacy and security: Smart textiles that collect and transmit personal data raise concerns about privacy and security. Manufacturers and researchers must ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect user data.
Despite these challenges, the future of smart textiles looks bright. With continued innovation and collaboration, we can expect to see even more exciting developments in this field in the years to come.
Smart textiles represent a promising area of innovation with potential applications in healthcare, sports, fashion, the military, and other fields. With the advancement of technology and materials, smart textiles are becoming more comfortable, durable, and practical. From monitoring vital signs to enhancing communication and comfort, smart textiles have the potential to transform the way we interact with our clothing and the world around us.
As the market for smart textiles continues to grow, manufacturers and researchers must address the challenges of power, standardization, and affordability. With continued innovation and collaboration, the future of smart textiles is bright, and we can expect to see even more exciting developments in this field in the years to come. As Francesca Rosella, co-founder of CuteCircuit, says, “Wearable technology is no longer just a buzzword but a viable and innovative market with huge potential for growth and development.”
by Francesca Rosella: “We want to add a new sense to our communication….” Source: “The Hug Shirt: A Telecommunication Device for Emotional Communication” by Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Vol. 69, No. 10, 2011.
by Paul Dillinger: “Our goal is to create a product that is so useful…” Source: “Levi’s and Google’s Connected Jacket Can Control Your Phone” by Kari Paul, The Guardian, October 3, 2017.
by David Lauren: “Ralph Lauren continues to be at the forefront of fashion and culture.” Source: “Ralph Lauren Launches ‘PoloTech’ Shirt in Partnership with OMsignal” by Husna Haq, The Christian Science Monitor, August 28, 2014