Less than a year after a team of MIT researchers reported successfully embedding electronic devices in fibers, around a quarter of a million semiconducting devices have been embedded, according to a Science and Technology Research News article. The goal for the fibers is to allow fabrics or composites to store and convert energy, sense their environment and communicate in applications such as wound dressings, clothing and airplane wings, among others.
The speed of the research-to-production trajectory is down to collaboration and expertise. The article says that by the time the fibers were unveiled in the summer of 2018, members of Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) had developed ways to increase the reliability of the process, and Inman Mills professionals had come up with a method of weaving the advanced fibers on a conventional manufacturing loom to scale production of fabrics capable of using light to receive and broadcast information.
“AFFOA is helping cutting-edge basic research to reach market-ready scale at unprecedented velocity,” says Yoel Fink, CEO of AFFOA and a professor of materials science and electrical engineering at MIT. “Chip-containing fibers, which were just recently a university research project, are now being produced at an annual rate of half a million meters. This scale allows AFFOA to engage dozens of companies and accelerate product and process development across multiple markets simultaneously … Chip-containing fibers present a real prospect for fabrics to be the next frontier in computation and AI.”
A network of learning
The prospect of fabrics as software may be made real at a faster pace thanks to AFFOA’s prototyping network. The network consists of dozens of universities and domestic manufacturers, encouraging rapid testing of advanced fabric products directly with customers.
To bolster startups, innovators can take part in AFFOA’s advanced fabric entrepreneurship program, which collaborates with the Venture Mentoring Service at MIT. AFFOA is also partnering with schools, including the Greater Lawrence Technical School and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Students are designing advanced chip-containing fibers and learning other skills related to producing advanced functional fabrics.