Smart Clothes Hit the Rack

Smart Clothes Hit the Rack

Will warehouse workers suit up in electronic clothing? Possibly. MIT researchers released a line of smart clothes that can track physical movement, and Fudan University researchers in China unveiled state-of-the-art electronic textiles that can produce visual displays.

This is all happening as wearable devices continue to streamline supply chain operations and provide critical feedback in real time. In fact, 70% of warehouse facilities will adopt some form of wearable electronics by 2023, according to MHI research.

MIT’s smart clothes are made of knitted conductive yarn. To make a garment, researchers develop its design in a computer program, knit it with an industrial machine, and then plug it into electronic pressure sensors that can detect the wearer’s movements.

Typically, display materials are not compatible with textiles because they can’t withstand the warping that occurs when fabrics are worn and washed. Fudan’s design solves that problem by weaving conductive and luminescent fibers together with cotton into a fabric display.

That produces a textile that can provide, for example, a touch-sensitive fabric keyboard that can withstand 100-plus laundry cycles. The researchers also say the textiles have a power supply and can harvest solar energy.

Applications for Fudan’s textiles include using one’s sleeve to send text messages and follow GPS instructions. Researchers say they can produce the display textiles on a large scale at low cost and are already providing them to companies. They will start to hit the market in 2021 and no later than 2022, Fudan predicts.

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