Tuesday, November 29

Smart Fabrics Electronics Seminar Topics

Today, the interaction of human individuals with electronic devices demands specific user skills. In future, improved user interfaces can largely alleviate this problem and push the exploitation of microelectronics considerably. In this context the concept of smart clothes promises greater user-friendliness, user empowerment, and more efficient services support. Wearable electronics responds to the acting individual in a more or less invisible way. It serves individual needs and thus makes life much easier. We believe that today, the cost level of important microelectronic functions is sufficiently low and enabling key technologies are mature enough to exploit this vision to the benefit of society. In the following, we present various technology components to enable the integration of electronics into textiles.

Advances in textile technology, computer engineering, and materials science are promoting a new breed of functional fabrics. Fashion designers are adding wires, circuits, and optical fibers to traditional textiles, creating garments that glow in the dark or keep the wearer warm. Meanwhile, electronics engineers are sewing conductive threads and sensors into body suits that map users' whereabouts and respond to environmental stimuli. Researchers agree that the development of genuinely interactive electronic textiles is technically possible, and that challenges in scaling up the handmade garments will eventually be overcome. Now they must determine how best to use the technology.

Electronic textiles (e-textiles) are fabrics that have electronics and interconnections woven into them. Components and interconnections are a part of the fabric and thus are much less visible and, more importantly, not susceptible to becoming tangled together or snagged by the surroundings. Consequently, e-textiles can be worn in everyday situations where currently available wearable computers would hinder the user. E-textiles also have greater flexibility in adapting to changes in the computational and sensing requirements of an application. The number and location of sensor and processing elements can be dynamically tailored to the current needs of the user and application, rather than being fixed at design time. As the number of pocket electronic products (mobile phone, palm-top computer, personal hi-fi, etc.) is increasing, it makes sense to focus on wearable electronics, and start integrating today's products into our clothes. The merging of advanced electronics and special textiles has already begun. Wearable computers can now merge seamlessly into ordinary clothing. Using various conductive textiles, data and power distribution as well as sensing circuitry can be incorporated directly into wash-and-wear clothing.
Wireless World

Whatever the technical obstacles, researchers involved in the development of interactive electronic clothing appear universally confident that context-aware coats and sensory shirts are only a matter of time. Susan Zevin, acting director of the Information Technology Laboratory at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), would like to see finished garments fitted with some form of data encryption system before they reach consumers. After all, wearing a jacket that is monitoring your every movement, recording details about your personal well-being, or pinpointing your exact location at a moment in time, adds a whole new dimension to issues of wireless security and personal privacy.

"The challenge, I think, for industry is to build in the security and privacy before the technology is deployed, so the user doesn't have to worry about having his or her T-shirt attacked by a hacker, for example," says Zevin. "People don't want to have to upload and download intrusion detection systems themselves. Pervasive computing should also mean pervasive computer security, and it should also mean pervasive standards and protocols for privacy." She notes that the level of security required for electronic textile garments will vary according to their applications.

Project Examples

Wearable Antennas

In this program for the US Army, Foster-Miller integrated data and communications antennas into a soldier uniform, maintaining full antenna performance, together with the same ergonomic functionality and weight of an existing uniform. We determined that a loop-type antenna would be the best choice for clothing integration without interfering in or losing function during operations, and then chose suitable body placement for antennas. With Foster-Miller's extensive experience in electro-textile fabrication, we built embedded antenna prototypes and evaluated loop antenna designs. The program established feasibility of the concept and revealed specific loop antenna design tradeoffs necessary for field implementation.

This program provided one of the key foundations for Foster-Miller's participation in the Objective Force Warrior program, aimed at developing soldier ensemble of the future, which will monitor individual health, transmit and receive mission-critical information, protect against numerous weapons, all while being robust and comfortable. 

Limitations and Issues of the "Smart Shirt"

Some of the wireless technology needed to support the monitoring capabilities of the "Smart Shirt" is not completely reliable. The "Smart Shirt" system uses Bluetooth and WLAN. Both of these technologies are in their formative stages and it will take some time before they become dependable and widespread.

Additionally, the technology seems to hold the greatest promise for medical monitoring. However, the "Smart Shirt" at this stage of development only detects and alerts medical professionals of irregularities in patients' vital statistics or emergency situations. It does not yet respond to dangerous health conditions. Therefore, it will not be helpful to patients if they do face complications after surgery and they are far away from medical care, since the technology cannot yet fix or address these problems independently, without the presence of a physician. Future research in this area of responsiveness is ongoing.

Fabric Computing Devices

Designing with unusual materials can create new user attitudes towards computing devices. Fabric has many physical properties that make it an unexpected physical, interface for technology. It feels soft to the touch, and is made to be worn against the body in the most intimate of ways. Materially, it is both strong and flexible, allowing it to create malleable and durable sensing devices. Constructing computers and computational devices from fabric also suggests new forms for existing computer peripherals, like keyboards, and new types of computing devices, like jackets and hats.


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