Clothing that provides feedback--groundbreaking research
Textile constructions are usually made to last or to look nice. Textile that has the built-in ability to move, giving so-called haptic feedback, is something completely new. The innovation could be used in many different ways; for example, to give blind people information about their surroundings and help the wearer to navigate without having to see. In ergonomics, mechanical feedback through garments would help wearers to improve their movements and posture. The gaming and entertainment industry could use moving garments to enhance virtual or enhanced reality (VR, virtual reality or AR, augumented reality).
“Moving textiles is a revolution”
The project Wearable Electroactive Fabrics Integrated in Garments (WEAFING) has been granted a total of EUR 3.8 million for the years 2019-2023. The project is led by the Universiteit Twente in the Netherlands and partners are Linköping University and the University of Borås. The origin of the project is an idea from the researchers Nils-Krister Persson at the University of Borås and Edwin Jager at Linköping University. They began to think about what they could do with oblong structures. More or less in their spare time they developed the "textile muscle" that today is exhibited in the Smart Textiles Showroom at the University of Borås. It is controlled by electrically conductive polymers.
"It was a relief the first time we saw the textile contract and we felt that this could be something big. Textiles moving just like a muscle--it is a revolution," says Nils-Krister Persson.
In 2017, the research was published in the scientific journal Science Advances and a hectic time followed.
"It was completely crazy; we were interviewed everywhere. Our article was among the five percent most quoted articles ever in regular press," says Nils-Krister Persson.
Next generation's smart textiles
The University of Twente in the Netherlands contacted them and wanted to collaborate, which eventually led to the EU project WEAFING, which started at the beginning of the year. In addition to the higher education institutions, a number of companies that also work with smart textiles are included.
"The project contains the entire chain, from material to product. It is a very fun project and a longer investment of 4.5 years, which gives us time to work properly with this,” says Edwin Jager, lead researcher at Linköping University.
The University of Borås has the largest part of the funding and is responsible for the textile aspects that are the main element of the project. The research group in Borås consists of Nils-Krister Persson as well as Li Guo, Tariq Bashir, Carin Backe, and Claude Huniade.
There are big problems to solve. At present, the material only works with an electrolyte, a liquid that conducts the current, which is highly impractical. The researchers need to develop the technique so that it works in a dry state and then make fibres that can be woven. If they succeed, they have developed the next generation of smart textiles.
"This is not like putting sensors in the textile, rather that the textile affects me as a wearar--it is new, it is basic research in textiles."
It is a good example of how smart textiles can change the world, even though we are only at the beginning of that development,” says Nils-Krister Persson.
The project web site (extern länk)
Text: Lina Färm, University of Borås, Karin Söderlund Leifler, LiU
Photo: Thor Balkhed, LiU