by Janet Preus
I’ve written about e-textiles numerous times over the past few years. There’s a reason for that. At first it was my own fascination with a technology which could transform a host of textile products. (I may still have my heated socks that required wires running up my leg, attached to two “D” batteries in a packet on my belt.) Subsequently, I have worked to stay on top of developments in the technology and track their progress.
My reports have been punctuated by stories of true breakthroughs; most recently, conductive fibers and yarns. There are other new and exciting technologies to watch, but I’m looking for that leap beyond prototype into commercial markets, which the conductive fibers market has clearly taken. There will be more, and we will cover them on Advanced Textiles Source. You’ll find a report on new research in my most recent feature, “The expanding world of e-textiles.”
What’s interesting to me now, however, is the market trend away from products that require the intervention of a professional—especially in the medical field—and toward products that give much more information and autonomy back to the individual end user. I’m especially taken with the progress shown in helping people with any sort of health challenge be able to understand and manage their own treatment better. This may include, for example, smart clothing that tells the wearer about his or her progress with a certain type of exercise, and whether or not the exercise is being done correctly. Research in soft robotics is leading to gloves that help the wearer hold a glass of water, perhaps an impossibility without the gloves.
These are just a couple of examples; there are dozens more on the way. Most ubiquitous are health monitoring wearables that sense, track and report vital signs to a smart phone—the wearer’s smart phone—giving that information in real time to the person who needs it most.
I’m summarizing, of course, which is a dangerous thing to do with highly complex technologies, so I’ll qualify it by saying this: The more we know about how our bodies are managing—from recovering from knee surgery to monitoring a wonky heart rate—the more we can understand how to take better care of ourselves. The technology is hardly “DIY,” but learning to use it, we are learning, certainly can be. And that’s what these e-textile products are, ultimately, all about: making our lives a little bit better.