A six meter fabric screen (with built-in keyboard) that withstands up to 1,000 fold, stretch and press cycles – this is the future of smart fabrics
Creating large screens integrated with functional systems that are flexible and durable it has been a challenge. A challenge that so far we have not managed to overcome and, at Engadget, we know it well. In the end, conventional materials do not integrate easily into textiles for a very simple reason: they resist deformation and do not withstand the usual uses to which we put fabrics (folding, stretching or washing).
Huisheng Peng and his team, after years and years of researching the problem, have succeeded in weaving conductive fibers and luminescent fibers together with cotton into a piece of cloth and, how ‘Nature’ publishes, it seems to overcome these problems. What’s more, the system can integrate a keyboard and a power source with the same textile characteristics.
The slow path of smart fabrics
The results of ‘Nature’ show us a fabric screen about 6 meters long and 25 centimeters wide in which a touch-sensitive fabric keyboard and a power supply (also made of fabric) can be integrated; in this case, a system powered by solar energy. And, the examples they show, look very good.
With that six meter fabric you can do a lot of things. In the image above you can see photographs of the implementation to use an interactive map or a messaging app from the garment. And all through a bluetooth connection.
The basic idea is that conductive fibers and luminescent fibers are constantly interwoven in the fabric, forming a kind of “lighting units” that, in coordination, function as a screen. In addition, researchers have subjected the fabric to folding, stretching and pressing tests to check performance: the conclusions are very good after more than 1000. And, it seems, they hold up to more than 100 washing and drying cycles with hardly any problem.
We are facing a very preliminary material, it is true. There is no doubt that it takes years to reach the production lines, but seeing such promising systems is excellent news in the face of a whole new generation of wearables that can radically change everything we had seen so far.