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Communications of the ACM

ACM TechNews

Computers in Your Clothes? A Milestone For Wearable Electronics

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An embroidered antenna.

Researchers at Ohio State University say they have developed functional textiles.

Credit: Jo McCulty/The Ohio State University.

Ohio State University (OSU) researchers have developed functional textiles that gather, store, and transmit digital information.

The wearable electronics are equipped with embroidered circuits that could enable developers to integrate electronic components such as sensors and computer memory devices.

The researchers say with further development the technology could lead to shirts that act as antennae for a smartphone or tablet, workout clothes that monitor fitness levels, sports equipment that monitors athletes' performance, a bandage that tells doctors how well injured tissues are healing, or a flexible fabric cap that senses activity in the brain.

OSU researchers John Volakis and Asimina Kiourti are investigating how to make brain implants more comfortable by eliminating the need for external wiring on the patient's body.

The researchers recently refined their fabrication method to create prototype wearables at a fraction of the cost and in half the time they could two years ago. The functional textiles, called e-textiles, are created with a conventional tabletop sewing machine. The researchers substitute the thread with fine silver metal wires that, once embroidered, feel the same as traditional thread to the touch. The shape of the embroidery determines the frequency of operation of the antenna or circuit.

From Ohio State University
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