Clothing today basically provides one of two functions, or both if you're lucky; either it acts as a barrier, protecting us from the elements or it provides us with a way to express our individual sense of style, making us look and feel our best. Clothing as we think of it today however, is set to take a giant step into the 21st Century; with smart textiles leading the way.
Smart textiles are separated into two different groupings: performance enhancing and aesthetic. The aesthetic category includes everything from fabrics that change color to those that light up. Some of these textiles are capable of harnessing energy from vibrations, heat, or sound from the environment and react accordingly.
The performance enhancing category will have a huge impact on our society. It could affect everything from job safety to athletic performance. Imagine fabrics that reduce wind resistance, regulate body temperature, and even control muscle vibration. These features could enhance athletic performance tremendously. Yet other fabrics have been designed to protect against environmental hazards, such as heat, cold, and even radiation. With life-saving potential, these fabrics could revolutionize on the job safety for military and law enforcement officials as well as any other hazardous job.
Additionally, smart clothing could even benefit the health, beauty and medical industries. Just imagine fabric that contains moisturizers, perfume, or even has anti-aging properties or medical textiles that release drugs in measured doses. The possibilities are truly endless.
Innovative fashion designers are working with engineers to push the boundaries even further. They imagine taking it one step further by designing garments that, rather than having an embedded device, actually are the device. Imagine a shirt that can charge your cell phone as you wear it or track your pulse rate as you exercise.
Genevieve Dion, from Philadelphia’s Drexel University, is working with colleagues to design a band knit from conductive yarn that can transmit radio signals. A fabric antennae fitted to the band would transmit 24/7, real time data. One example of the way this technology could transform lives is to use it for a belly band that monitors the fetus growth in high-risk pregnancies. The data could be sent to the mother’s physician in real time, and allow constant monitoring of the mother and baby’s health.
Smart textiles are rapidly changing the face of the fashion industry, and this is just the beginning. With technology advancing by leaps and bounds, who knows what tomorrow may bring to the world in terms of “wearable technology.”
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