Imagine swishing a fingertip along the fabric of your car seat to control the radio volume. Or impressing guests by dimming your living room lights with a languid swipe along the arm of your sofa. These ideas could soon become reality thanks to a smart fabric that behaves like the touchscreen on your cellphone.Because you can clean it, the material will be practical for everyday use.
"In essence we are trying to reproduce the smartphone experience in textile form," says researcher Maksim Skorobogatiy of the Polytechnic School in Montreal, Canada. "We are looking for applications where we can weave in sleek, non-invasive control, avoiding blocks of push buttons."
To do this they have created a soft polymer-based fibre you can weave into a fabric, which has electrical properties that change depending on where it is touched.
The team start by rolling conducting and insulating polymer films around a copper wire to create a 2-centimetre-wide cylindrical capacitor (Smart Materials and Structures, DOI: 10.1088/0964-1726/21/1/015010). Then they heat the cylinder to 200 °C and stretch it out until it is a soft, elastic fibre just 0.9 millimetres in diameter.
"The resulting fibres are easy to use in conventional weaving processes," says Skorobogatiy. To prove it, they wove their fibres into a 10 cm by 15 cm piece of material. Finger touches or swipes modified the capacitance of the fabric (a measure of its ability to store charge) when an alternating current was passed through the fibres. That allowed the team to write software that could pinpoint exactly where the pad had been touched. This means that finger movements such as swipes and touches can be logged and used to control the air-conditioning, say, or the volume on the radio.
Crucially, the fibre is easily cleaned, a must for material used everyday in cars or homes. Most smart fabrics to date have fallen at this particular hurdle.
Source: newscientist.comAdded: 10 January 2012