Whether in the fitness sector, in medicine, or in the entertainment industry, IT devices worn on the body, such as smartwatches, are becoming increasingly popular. Applications of this kind benefit when the input device adapts to the body as naturally as possible; for example, in the form of electro-sensitive substances called e-textiles. Researchers developed a method to produce these textiles in a comparatively uncomplicated manner to open up new usage scenarios.
The method integrates interactive functions directly into the fibers of textiles instead of just attaching electronic components to them. Previous approaches to the production of these textiles are complex and influence the wearing comfort of the material. The new method allows textiles and items of clothing to be subsequently converted into e-textiles without affecting their original wearing properties — they remain thin, elastic, and supple. This enables them to experiment quickly and in a variety of ways with new forms of e-textiles and to integrate them into IT devices.
Especially for devices worn on the body, it is important that they restrict movement as little as possible and still process high-resolution input signals. To achieve this, the researchers use the in-situ polymerization process. The electrical properties are “dyed” into the fabric — a textile is exposed to a chemical reaction in a water bath, known as polymerization, that makes it electrically conductive and sensitive to pressure and expansion, giving it piezoresistive properties. By only “coloring” certain areas of a textile or polymerizing individual threads, the process can produce tailor-made e-textiles.
In their test runs, the researchers produced gloves that can digitally record hand movements, a zipper that transmits different tensions depending on the degree of opening, and sports tapes that transform into a control element attached to the body. Materials other than textiles can also be processed with the method.