Wearable electronics and smart textiles - Embedded.com

Wearable electronics and smart textiles

Electronic Textiles (e-textiles) are fabrics that feature electronics and interconnections woven into them, presenting physical flexibility and typical size that cannot be achieved with other existing electronic manufacturing techniques.

Components and interconnections are intrinsic to the fabric and thus are less visible and not susceptible of becoming tangled or snagged by surrounding objects. E-textiles can also more easily adapt to fast changes in the computational and sensing requirements of any specific application, this one representing a useful feature for power management and context awareness.

The vision behind wearable computing foresees future electronic systems to be an integral part of our everyday outfits. Such electronic devices have to meet special requirements concerning wearability. Wearable systems will be characterized by their ability to automatically recognize the activity and the behavioral status of their own user as well as of the situation around her/him, and to use this information to adjust the systems‘ configuration and functionality.

This paper focuses on recent advances in the field of Smart Textiles and pays particular attention to the materials and their manufacturing process. Each technique shows advantages and disadvantages and our aim is to highlight a possible trade-off between flexibility, ergonomics, low power consumption, integration and eventually autonomy.

Textiles represent an attractive class of substrates for realizing wearable bio-sensors. Electronic textiles, or smart textiles, describe the convergence of electronics and textiles into fabrics which are able to sense, compute, communicate and actuate.

As many different electronic systems can be connected to any clothing, a wearable system becomes more versatile, and the user can change its look depending on environmental changes and individual preference.

The vision of wearable computing describes future electronic systems as an integral part of our everyday clothing serving as intelligent personal assistants. Therefore, such wearable sensors must maintain their sensing capabilities under the demands of normal wear, which can impose severe mechanical deformation of the underlying garment/substrate.

One promising approach to reduce the rigidity of electronic textiles and enhance its wearability is to replace PCBs by flexible electronics. Some methods show advantages with respect to others, but in our opinion and in according to the consulting company Smart Garment People (Lancashire, UK), while some manufacturers are very experienced with electronics and others with textiles, very few do both well.

Current advances in textile technologies, new materials, nanotechnology and miniaturized electronics are making wearable systems more feasible but the final key factor for user acceptance of wearable devices is the fit comfort.

We are convinced that this goal can only be achieved by addressing mechanical resistance, and durability of the materials in what is recognized to be a harsh environment for electronics: the human body and society.

The development of smart textiles requires a multidisciplinary approach in which knowledge of circuit design, smart materials, micro-electronics and chemistry are fundamentally integrated with a deep understanding of textile fabrication.

To read more of this external content, download the complete paper from the author online archives at MDPI.

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