New “smart material” can turn sportswear into “smart wearable things”


“Smart material” as a concept is nothing new in science today. But maybe you can take this one as something a little more interesting because of its potential implications for the future.

A team of researchers at Rice University say they’ve developed a smart new type of material, which they say is as tough as Kevlar but with the softness of cotton. It is also as conductive as many metals, and the cotton-like consistency makes it wearable and washable like normal clothing while potentially turning sportswear into “smart clothes,” reports The Daily News.

(Photo: Getty Images)

The technology that has made this possible involves the use of carbon nanotube wires. These leads work just like the leads on an ECG machine, which help detect heart disease by measuring heart rhythms. But the main difference of this technology is that it can be sewn into a t-shirt without worrying about damage from stretching, sweating, washing and repeated wearing.

There is enormous potential for the development of smart wearable devices with this type of technology. According to the official post on the Rice University website, people who want / need to monitor their vital signs for specific reasons will no longer have to wear bulky devices like smartwatches or chest belts. Their t-shirt could literally do the job for them.

But this is only a proposed application. According to the study’s lead author, Lauren Taylor, the smart new material can also be used to develop next-generation military uniforms. With this sewn into the liner of a combat jacket, for example, the military high command will be able to accurately track the location of its personnel with hardly any hassle on the part of the soldier.

Oliver Dewy, another member of the research team, has high hopes for the smart material they have developed. He states that it will be nearly impossible to find flexible thread-like materials like carbon nanotube fibers that can be used for both clothing and large-scale construction projects. This could be the future of wearable technology.

Also read: New study explores the use of wearable technology and telehealth to treat Parkinson’s disease

Smart Material 101: how does it work?

Quite simply, yes. The development of the Rice University team is simply amazing, given the breadth of its applications in healthcare. They also claim that over time the technology they developed could also be upgraded to track even more vital signs. But how exactly does this type of wearable technology work?

What they did was pretty straightforward. They took carbon nanotube fibers and sewn them into the fabric of a traditional sports shirt. Since fibers are very conductive, they can relay information into a device such as a smartphone or even a Holter monitor, which can be stowed in a user’s pocket.

Jogging lady

(Photo: Getty Images)

The only problem is that for now, the resulting smart material can only work if the garment is snug against the skin, according to Taylor. But she and her team are already planning to use denser patches of nanotube fibers to improve the surface. This could mean that you won’t have to wear something close to the body, especially if you are uncomfortable with the way your body looks.

Related: This solar powered smart backpack will charge your phone while you go to class

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Written by RJ Pierce

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