WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
We adapt to the weather by changing our clothes, but in the future our clothes will be able to adapt to the weather.
Recently I wrote about a new type of 3D printed fabric that changes its colour on demand, and a new morphable fabric that lets retailers stock just one size of clothing – just apply some heat, and create a garment that fits everyone, of any shape, perfectly. So we can already see that the world of clothing and fashion is changing – and that’s before I discuss 3D printed high end dresses and sneakers, and smart clothing that heals people while they sleep and collects information, such as health and wellness information, about the wearer. But despite all these advances there’s still one issue most of us grapple with – temperature.
One minute we’re in the freezing cold London streets and the next we’re sweating buckets on the boiling hot London tube, and then in the office we’re all fighting over the air conditioning dials. Welcome to my itinerary for this week. So, what if there was a single fabric that could help us regulate our body temperatures so you always felt just right?
Well, wait no longer. Now a new fabric, developed by the team at the University of Maryland in the US has become the first fabric in the world that can automatically warm wearers up or cool them down as needed.
When you’re feeling hot and sweaty, for example, playing sports, the fabric lets Infrared radiation, that’s heat to you and I, pass through it. But when you’re colder and drier, it reverses the process and traps the heat in.
It was created using specially engineered yarn created with fibers made of two different synthetic materials – one that absorbs water and one that repels it. The strands are coated with carbon nanotubes, the same tech that’s being used to create cables for space elevators and mechanical electric batteries with a 16,000km range, build the first batteryless hypercars, and reverse paralysis. In this example though each fiber expands or contracts when the temperature changes.
When the material gets hot and wet, for example, when you’re sweating, the strands twist and warp, tightening it up. This process activates the nanotube coating, which lets heat pass through, almost like the body’s pores. When you’re too cool, this mechanism is blocked, trapping in heat close to your skin to warm you up. The research was published in Science.
“[The fabric] recognizes the way your body changes heat in different environments,” says study co-author YuHuang Wang. “It’s like an antenna picking up changes in temperature and moisture.”
So who might be the first lucky people to try out the wonder fabric you might ask… The researchers think the first market for the material will be athletes, but they add that it could also be useful for infants, people with disabilities, older people. In short, anyone requiring constant attention to ensure comfort, Wang says, adding that it could be in production in the next couple of months.
Roll on, summer, and bring on your worst London Transport.