Printed flexible electronics bring smarter smart clothes closer to reality

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Smaller and more flexible electronics and computer components will help us create even more intelligent smart clothes that can monitor our wellbeing in immense depth and detail.

 

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One day our clothes will be embedded with all manner of computing, electronics, energy, and sensing technologies, but unlike today’s technologies which are quite bulky, tomorrow they’ll all be next to invisible, and transparently integrated into the fabrics in your clothing.

 

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Now, in a step to realising this future researchers at the University of Oulu, together with their partners from VTT Technical Research Center and Polar Electro, have announced they’ve developed a new system of electrodes and electronics that can be integrated into our clothing and that can withstand our daily routines – something that’s very important given the amount of wear and tear our clothes go through whether it’s when we’re out and about or when they’re spinning round in a washing machine.

 

The new flexible electronic system. Courtesy: UO

 

“This work brings us one step closer to smart clothing ubiquity, where our apparel, in addition to monitoring our health and surrounding environment, will be changing its appearance and properties accordingly to our wishes,” says Adjunct Professor Rafal Sliz, the leader of this study.

 

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The results published in the recent open-access issue of NPJ Flexible Electronics provide new insights into novel methods of fabrication of inexpensive and reliable electronics that are essential for smart clothing.

“Roll-to-roll technology allows high-speed and large-area printing of the electronic subsystems analogously to newspaper printing processes,” says Olli-Heikki Huttunen, VTT researcher that supervised the printing trials.

Prof. Sliz emphasizes another aspect of the study – the ability to implement the results to create sustainable smart clothing, where environmentally friendly and biodegradable materials can replace plastics and harmful substances.

 

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“Although electronic devices have surrounded us for a long time, their applicability in clothing has been limited by inflexibility and vulnerability to changing conditions we face daily. This research shows how to resolve these limitations and improve our everyday life,” says Professor Tapio Fabritius, a leader of the Optoelectronics and Measurement Techniques Unit, where the research has been conducted.

Source: University of Oulu

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