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It’s not just your shirt that’s smart

March 11th, 2019 / By: / My Take

Wearables and personal gear have dominated the smart textiles news—including in this publication. Smart shirts, shoes, backpacks and purses deliver health and fitness monitoring, safety features, and a means to access our smart phones when we need to leave them stashed in a pocket or handbag.

But the technology is capable of applications in other – and more large-scale – environments, too. The challenge for our feature writers with this month’s topic was to dig for those smart textile applications that aren’t quite so obvious, but are certainly a part of the big picture (or they will be) in this high-growth market segment.

How large scale? Roads and streets, bridges, buildings, private homes, health care facilities, hotels, and on it goes. Sensing materials in infrastructure can alert engineers and maintenance personnel to possible problems. Buildings can be wrapped in claddings that follow the sun, in a sense, for shade or solar gain, depending on time of day or weather. Sensing walkways can provide wayfinding and store traffic data.

Your home is going to get smarter, too. It won’t be long and you will never have to search for the remote control under the couch again, because the couch itself will be smart. What if your favorite chair could check your vitals and free you from the paraphernalia sometimes associated with remote health monitoring? The technology is there, it really is.

By now you’re thinking, “Not commercially viable … too expensive to scale up,” and you’re not wrong. But some of us remember calculators that were too expensive for most high school math students to afford. In a very short time they cost little more than a soda and French fries, and we all had them in our billfolds. The question may not be if smart fabrics will darn near change the way we interact with our world in hundreds of ways, but rather, “How long will it take?”

Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source. She can be reached at jlpreus@ifai.com.