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Smart and getting smarter

October 9th, 2017 / By: / My Take

This year’s IFAI Expo had to have been the largest ever Advanced Textiles Conference and show floor in terms of participants. That’s just my own anecdotal evidence, at this point, but I’ve been to the AT events every year, and I’m betting that Expo statistics will back me up. There was special emphasis this year on Smart Textiles, with a conference “track,” (See “A long and winding path” on this site) an e-textiles hackathon (“IFAI’s first Hackathon yields novel e-textiles products”) and new exhibitors in this area.

When IFAI first started its commitment to covering advanced textiles in a more focused format, I had to do some digging to find the courageous entrepreneurs who were delving into the “what ifs” and pursuing novel solutions in this market area. The entrepreneurs in the high-tech end of textiles are still courageous, but they are many more of them developing ever more exciting technologies and products.

Also, many more of these researchers and entrepreneurs are women. Young women, too. Lots of them. Again, this is my own anecdotal evidence, but it has to be worth something. What this could mean is that more women are pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses of study and launching careers in these areas, labeled “STEM.” Marie O’Mahony in her article “STEM, women and the advanced textile industry” says that male and female students at the graduate level are about equal, but that number drops off dramatically in comparing leadership level careers. “This is a problem that has to be faced,” O’Mahony says.

But I’m encouraged, and I anticipate progress. One indicator was the variety of areas of expertise that came together at the Advanced Textiles Conference: electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, materials engineering, robotics, virtual and augmented reality, fashion and design, IP and patent law, and others. In fact, the discussions following presentations were frequently dynamic and informative, too, fueled by the varying perspectives of the experts in attendance.

I heard the word “collaboration” often, indicating that there is a widespread belief that making the next “leap”–particularly in e-textiles–will require the kind of team effort, as was represented in the hackathon competition. One presenter is launching an organized effort to do just that. Ben Cooper, managing director of IOClothes, is launching a website at the end of the year designed to create efficiency in sharing information to develop smart fabrics and e-textiles.  “How do you align all these different groups that speak different “languages?” he asks. His answer is an online “meeting place for the entire community to get on the same page.”

Could this format be turning point for the industry? We intend to be on that “page,” too, and we’re looking forward to sharing the information.