Smart Textiles Powered by The Human Body

Smart Textiles Powered by The Human Body

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Researchers have created fiber-based electronics that harness electromagnetic energy in the atmosphere, using the human body as part of the circuit.

This fiber electronic technology will not need electronic chips or batteries to work and could be used for many different applications. Co-author Chengyi Hou explained: “When electromagnetic energy travels through the fiber, it is converted by fibers into other forms of energy, including visible light and radio waves. So, in addition to emitting light, the fiber emits electric signals when touched by [a] human body.”

Hou adds that the wireless signals emitted can be controlled and programmed, picked up with a coil, and then ‘translated’ by electronic devices into different commands (turning the device on or off, and many other actions).

According to the Guardian, this approach removes the need for rigid components when attempting to incorporate electronic systems into textiles, which is a major challenge in the industry.

The prototypes developed by the team include a wearable fabric display coupled with a fabric keyboard, which could, for example, be used by people who have a hearing impairment to help them communicate with others. Another prototype is a wireless haptic carpet that glows underfoot, providing a form of emergency lighting at night, and can wirelessly transmit signals that can be used to control switches on appliances in the home.

The researchers also suggested that this innovative tech could be applied to robots and robotic prosthetics, as well as offer a way to gather tactile information to better understand interactions between humans and the objects around them.

Dr Luigi Occhipinti, director of research in smart electronics, biosystems, and AI at the University of Cambridge, has also opined that the approach has great potential: “As we are constantly in the proximity of sources of electromagnetic fields of various nature and with different characteristics, developing new classes of e-textiles that incorporate skin sensors and non-traditional electronics, powered uniquely via fiber-based energy harvesters in contact with our body, could unleash an entirely new class of self-powered wearable electronics for continuous monitoring of personal health.”