Smart Fabrics: Getting Smarter
Advances in technology have brought together the apparel, technology, and textile industries to develop new capabilities in fabrics with the potential to change how athletes, patients, soldiers, first responders, and everyday consumers interact with their clothes and other textile products. Known as “smart fabrics,” these new high-tech products have the ability to interact with their user or the environment, including tracking and communicating data about their wearer or environment to other devices through embedded sensors and conductive yarns. The applications for these new capabilities are broad with most smart fabric product development currently seen in the fields of defense, sports/fitness, health, and public safety.
When we think of textiles or fabric, we usually just think of them as something we carry or wear to provide coverage, convey our sense of style, and protect us from the environmental elements. But, the future of textiles and clothing as we know it is about to change in a big way, and smart fabrics are paving the way for this change. Smart textiles are fabrics that have been developed with new technologies that provide added value to the wearer. What makes smart fabrics revolutionary is that they have the ability to do many things that traditional fabrics cannot, including communicate, transform, conduct energy and even grow.
Smart fabrics can be broken into two different categories: Aesthetic and Performance Enhancing. Aesthetic examples include everything from fabrics that light up to fabrics that can change color. Some of these fabrics gather energy from the environment by harnessing vibrations, sound or heat, reacting to this input. Then there are performance enhancing smart textiles, which will have a huge impact on the athletic, extreme sports and military industries. There are fabrics that help regulate body temperature, reduce wind resistance and control muscle vibration – all of which help improve athletic performance. Other fabrics have been developed for protective clothing to guard against extreme environmental hazards like radiation and the effects of space travel. The health and beauty industry is also taking advantage of these innovations, which range from drug-releasing medical textiles, to fabric with moisturizer, perfume, and anti-aging properties. Just think of all the possibilities!