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A new smart fabric turns your movements into electricity that may one day allow people to charge their phones, watches, and other wearable devices by simply walking. And contrast to other “smart clothes,” this new textile can work for months, even after the wash.
Inserting Electronic Parts into Clothing
By inserting electronic parts, like electrodes, sensors, or batteries into clothing, researchers have invented a fabric that can monitor body heat for our health and turn our movements into electricity.
This could lead to many possibilities for use for such an invention waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, although many prototypes have been made so far, the lack of reliability and durability has thwarted the extensive use of smart fabrics.
Lee Pooi See from the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) said, “The toughest issue has been to create something that doesn’t destroy its functioning after being washed, well retaining a durable electrical output.”
The New Smart Fabric
Lee is the head developer for the smart fabric that produces electricity when exposed to some mechanical stress, like squeezing, stretching, or tapping.
In their experiment, they continuously tapped on a tiny piece of the fabric (smaller than 2 square inches) that created enough electricity to turn on 100 LEDs or charge capacitors found in standard electronics, such as smartphones.
The ability of the smart fabric to create electricity was steady for five months and was not affected by folding, wrinkling, or washing. Furthermore, as the smart fabric is waterproof, breathable, and stretchable, the NTU Singapore research team thinks the material can be easily incorporated into wearables.
Lee thinks, “It can be included into soles of shoes or sewn into t-shirts to gather energy from the body’s slightest movements, feeding the electricity to mobile technologies.”
Developing a New Electrode
To create this smart fabric, the scientists began by developing a stretchable electrode made from rubber-like silver material.
This new electrode is attached to a fabric made from a polymer that creates electricity when stretched, bent, or compressed (called PVDF-HPF) and perovskites, a type of material used in LEDs and solar cells.
Lee explained, “Implanting perovskites […] increases the smart fabric’s electrical output.”
“Perovskites are very brittle but adding them into PVDF-HPF gives the perovskites extraordinary mechanical flexibility and durability,” she explains.
“The PVDF-HPF adds an extra layer of protection to the perovskites, adding to its mechanical stability and property.”
The Future of the Smart Fabric
It is unclear how much it will cost to produce this smart fabric, and the NTU Singapore study does not explain if the research team has any plans to try to commercialize their technology.
Based on their experiment, it does not seem like people would need a large piece of this smart fabric to create the necessary amount of electricity, and now scientists are searching for new ways to adapt it to yield even more energy.