There is an increasing demand for wearable devices, with more and more people buying fitness watches, smart clothing and even smart jewellery. In the past, wearable technology had to rely on rigid electronic components, making it difficult for them to be integrated into fabrics and small devices.
However, an exciting new development means that new stretchable electronics will soon become available for wider use in the wearable tech industry. These flexible components are made to stay operative even when their shape is manipulated to fit with fabrics or other wearables. We’ve taken a look at how this new technology works and how it could impact the future of wearable technology.
How does it work?
Stretchable electronic components have been developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge. The researchers, working in collaboration with colleagues at Jiangnan University in China, have shown how ‘graphene – a two-dimensional form of carbon – and other related materials can be directly incorporated into fabrics to produce charge storage elements such as capacitors, paving the way to textile-based power supplies which are washable, flexible and comfortable to wear’ (Source: University of Cambridge).
The technology involves creating inks which can be coated onto fabrics and textiles in a simple dyeing process. The researchers believe that this is an environmentally-friendly, low-cost and scalable solution for wearable technology.
Some have even suggested that, by integrating multiple stretchable components, such as temperature, pressure and electrochemical sensors, it would be possible to create a material resembling human skin (Source: Med-Tech). However, this would be a more complex application of the technology which would take a while to become commercially viable.
One of the most exciting areas for application of the stretchable electronics is in healthcare. Research has already been done on creating a ‘Smart Bandage’, which can wirelessly monitor a variety of physical and electrical signals including respiration, body motion, temperature, eye movement and heart and brain activity (Source: Science Daily).
Now that these washable, wearable components can be woven directly into fabrics, the potential for healthcare monitoring is vast. Without suffering from any intrusion, patients could go about their daily lives and still be monitored remotely be doctors and medical staff.
Another fascinating aspect of wearable technology is its potential for generating power. Research has highlighted the potential for generating electricity from the movement of human joints (Source: Nature). This would mean that wearable tech could be self-powering and maybe even harness electricity for other sources.
On a more commercial level, a health-conscious audience who have bought into the craze of fitness watches will certainly be ready to take up comfortable and accurate wearable sports clothes or ‘athleisure’. Those in the fashion industry will be looking to incorporate the tech and make it appealing to a wide audience.
AR and VR are the current buzzwords in the gaming industry and it’s highly likely that wearable technologies will become even more sophisticated, evolving from headsets and smart glasses into something even smaller and neater.
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