AUG 12, 2018 1:15 AM PDT

Clothes Capable of Communication

WRITTEN BY: Nouran Amin

Investigators at MIT have developed a one of a kind wearable soft hardware clothes that are capable of optically communicating; the latest product in textiles and fibers. Researchers created embedded high-speed optoelectronic conductor devices that includes light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and diode photodetectors. These devices are woven within fibers into soft, washable fabrics and made into communicating systems. Such development provides a milestone in creating "smart" fabrics that have integrated semiconductor devices ultimately providing fabrics to have sophisticated functionality of modern electronics.

The development of the solid components of the fibers includes two types of electrical diodes created utilizing standard microchip technology: the light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and photosensing diodes. "Both the devices and the wires maintain their dimensions while everything shrinks around them,” explains Michael Rein, a graduate study at MIT and an author of the study published in Nature. "This approach adds a new insight into the process of making fibers. Instead of drawing the material all together in a liquid state, we mixed in devices in particulate form, together with thin metal wires."

Researchers from MIT produced fibers with embedded electronics that are so flexible they can be woven into soft fabrics and made into wearable clothing. Credit: Image courtesy of MIT; Courtesy of the researchers

Incorporating function into fiber provides a great advantage and that is waterproofness. The researchers have demonstrated this quality by placing some of the photo-detecting fibers into a fish tank. They then placed a music-transmitting lamp that was able to communicate music through the water and to the fibers in the form of optical signal communication. Amazingly, the fibers survived in the water for weeks. "This paper describes a scalable path for incorporating semiconductor devices into fibers. We are anticipating the emergence of a 'Moore's law' analog in fibers in the years ahead," says Yoel Fink, MIT professor of materials science and electrical engineering. "It is already allowing us to expand the fundamental capabilities of fabrics to encompass communications, lighting, physiological monitoring, and more. In the years ahead fabrics will deliver value-added services and will no longer just be selected for aesthetics and comfort."

Additionally, the use of optically communicating fibers can have uses beyond commercial applications. Fink believes that it can be a crucial development needed by the U.S. Department of Defense for “exploring applications of these ideas to our women and men in uniform." Furthermore, the development can have a biomedical breakthrough for significant reasons such as wearable clothes that can measure pulse or blood oxygen levels, or a device woven into a bandage to continuously monitor the healing process.

Source: MIT

About the Author
  • Nouran earned her BS and MS in Biology at IUPUI and currently shares her love of science by teaching. She enjoys writing on various topics as well including science & medicine, global health, and conservation biology. She hopes through her writing she can make science more engaging and communicable to the general public.
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