Nanotechnology for textiles, wearables, where do we stand?

Introduction

Nanotechnology applied to textiles opens new market opportunities for wearable, smart clothing, nano engineered clothes.

Evidence of ultra light wearable solar textiles already emerged less than one year ago. A polyester/Ag nanowires/graphene polymer was experimented and published in Nano Energy (Wu, C. et al. 2016).

In the same field of research is a prototype for a “All-In-One Shape-Adaptive Self-Charging Power Package for Wearable Electronics“, represented below is the idea of the prototype: energy is accumulated mechanically and a special tissue is able to accumulate it.

Picture source: Guo, H., Yeh, M. H., Lai, Y. C., Zi, Y., Wu, C., Wen, Z., … & Wang, Z. L. (2016).

As you can imagine this kind of innovation brings many possible outcomes in the smart clothing business. An energy storage device that can bend, twist and stretch is really a disruptive innovation. In other words: a wearable battery.

StretchSense is a company that specializes in motor sensing using smart textiles. Their “Energy Harvesting Kit” allow developers to augment their devices with a charging system that uses body motion as the energy source. For example, by placing an energy harvester in a shoe, and thus accumulating energy while running

Among the various markets that nanotech enriched textiles could grow, here’s a quick list:

  • Medical / health
  • Sports
  • Military
  • Home textile
  • Fashion
  • Entertainment

Of these categories, the most obvious is of course sports where these technology are already classified in three streams, so we have reached third generation wearable technologies.

First two generation wearable technologies

The first generation of wearable technologies include products such as the Adidas MiCoach or Sensoria (smart socks).

The second generation includes Google Project Jaquard. From Google’s own definition:

Project Jacquard makes it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile using standard, industrial looms. Everyday objects such as clothes and furniture can be transformed into interactive surfaces. Using conductive yarns, bespoke touch and gesture-sensitive areas can be woven at precise locations, anywhere on the textile.(source: https://atap.google.com/jacquard/)

Another example of second generation is Ralph Lauren Polo Tech, where a Polo t-shirt becomes a net of sensors that send signal to a receving app on a smartphone. Supaspot is another company making sensors that can be applied to any clothing.

Third generation wearables

So what’s in the third generation? Well, clothes and textiles begin to have some more functions than simply detecting movement.

ATTACH (Adaptive Textiles Technology with Active Cooling and Heating), a 2.6M Arpa grant at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) to develop textiles that can adapt:

“This smart textile will thermally regulate the garment’s heat transport through changes in thickness and pore architecture by shrinking the textile when hot and expanding it when cold.” (link here)

Similar is Clim8 Heated Textiles, intelligent thermal clothing: the sensors are nanotech and thus positioned within the yarn itself.

 

Other emerging textile trends

Other trends regard the already mentioned energy harvesting thorugh kinetic or solar energy; cool luminous clothing for fashion, smart curtains, smart mattress covers, and also some cleaning textiles such as the Vileda Nanotech Micro, using silver nanoparticles to kill bacteria.


Articles cited:

Wu, C., Kim, T. W., Guo, T., & Li, F. (2016). Wearable ultra-lightweight solar textiles based on transparent electronic fabrics. Nano Energy.

Guo, H., Yeh, M. H., Lai, Y. C., Zi, Y., Wu, C., Wen, Z., … & Wang, Z. L. (2016). All-in-One Shape-Adaptive Self-Charging Power Package for Wearable Electronics. ACS nano, 10(11), 10580-10588.

Yetisen, A. K., Qu, H., Manbachi, A., Butt, H., Dokmeci, M. R., Hinestroza, J. P., … & Yun, S. H. (2016). Nanotechnology in textiles. ACS nano, 10(3), 3042-3068.

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