Research Press Release

Electronics: Wearable electronic textiles for the smart dresser


March 11, 2021

An electronic textile with a large-area display that could have applications in communications, navigation and healthcare is described in Nature this week. The textile is flexible, breathable and durable, making it an ideal material for practical uses.

Creating large displays integrated with functional systems that are flexible and durable when worn has been challenging. Conventional solid-state display materials are not readily compatible with textiles because they struggle to withstand the natural deformation that occurs when fabrics are worn and washed. This new design weaves conductive fibres and luminescent fibres together with cotton into a fabric display, and is shown to overcome this issue.

Huisheng Peng and colleagues produced a display fabric that is 6 metres long and 25 centimetres wide that can be integrated with a touch-sensitive fabric keyboard and a fabric power supply (in this case, one that harvests solar energy). They demonstrate various applications for the fabric, such as a navigation tool that displays an interactive map or a communications tool that can send or retrieve messages via a Bluetooth connection with a smartphone. The display is produced by illuminating units (electroluminescent units) that form where the conductive fibres and luminescent fibres meet at contact points in the woven fabric. After 1,000 cycles of bending, stretching and pressing, the performance of the vast majority of electroluminescent units remained stable. In addition, the brightness of the electroluminescent units remained stable after 100 cycles of washing and drying. With the integration of more functionality, the authors expect these ‘smart textiles’ to shape the next generation of electronic communication tools.

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