I bought myself a pair of “electric socks” decades ago. Living in an outdoors-oriented family in Northern Minnesota, this was a supremely practical purchase. There were wires woven inside the toes and wires outside of the socks that ran all the way up my legs to a battery pack (two D-cells) affixed to my belt. (You pretty much had to have a belt.)
I have to say this contraption did a good job keeping my toes, which had been frozen multiple times while ice skating, toasty warm, especially when standing out on a frozen lake fishing or sitting in a deer stand. I used them for both. Walking, however, was not the best.
Grateful as I was for a chance at keeping my feet warm, I would have been thrilled to distraction with outdoor clothing made with one of the new, innovative heating textiles. I couldn’t have imagined that! Or a shirt that monitored my heart rate, shoes that did the same, or any number of first generation smart textile products that have altered the way we think about comfort, protection and wearable health monitoring.
Even so, we are not so far removed from those wires. First generation smart textile applications hadn’t eliminated them altogether, but the next-generation products are truly a new story. Relatively recent innovations have yielded smart fabric, yarns and fibers with extensive capabilities in data collection and dissemination via smartphone apps or another smart device – all done remotely. Beats wires running under your toes, that’s for sure.
Not surprisingly, there is improvement in the acceptance, as well, of health monitoring devices, largely because new products are less obtrusive and invasive and more comfortable. In other words, people don’t mind wearing them. It’s even possible that no one else will know they’re wearing them, and that’s cool.
Our feature, “E-textiles in health monitoring” by Debra Cobb, summarizes the progress of this market and gives us an intriguing look at what we can expect in the future. I couldn’t -have imagined today’s e-textiles way back when I wore those (then) state-of-the-art heating socks. I’m sure there will be innovations in the future that few, including me, have envisioned today. Of one thing I am sure: advanced textiles will be a critical part of that progress..
Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.