The world of wearables is widening and more companies are testing the types of technology that will reshape the way we interact with what we wear.
But the one thing that stands to fuel wearable tech’s move to mainstream, according to DuPont, is stretchable electronic ink.
Wearable technology was a much talked about topic at Sourcing at MAGIC in Las Vegas last week, and in a seminar on the smart clothing enabling ink, DuPont Microcircuit Materials segment manager Michael Burrows said, “Clothing will always outsell phones, the opportunities for this are just massive.”
DuPont introduced its stretchable inks for smart clothing last December and has since begun projects for putting the technology to use in apparel.
The ink comes as any standard ink might, and it can be used in common manufacturing processes without significant investment. The ink makes for thin, form-fitting circuits that can be seamlessly bonded with many fabrics. So instead of an unsightly, un-wearable wearable, garments made using these stretchable electronics can still be comfortable—and even stylish.
In partnership with analog and mixed-signal integrated circuits developer Maxim Integrated and Clothing+, a Finnish manufacturer of sportswear with integrated biometric sensors, DuPont created a biometric fitness shirt that looks like a standard short-sleeve rash guard but is electronic ink enabled.
Equipped with conductors, encapsulants and sensors, the shirt can monitor the wearer’s heart, temperature and motion. The stretchable, smart fabric could even be screen-printed and then laundered up to 100 wash cycles without sustaining any performance loss.
To draw a contrast between the biometric shirt and previous iterations of so called smart wearables, Burrows pointed to the Holter Monitor, a contraption of sorts that measures the heart’s activity and is generally prescribed for patients with heart problems. The device is made up of multiple wires connected to small discs (electrodes) and taped to the user’s torso.
“This is what the medical industry can do and bring to market. And it’s a mile away from something we would consider smart or clothing,” Burrows said. “The need is real, but smart clothing must reduce complexity, not add to it.”
Smart clothing could not only better heart monitoring for patients in that they might be able to wear a traditional shirt that does the same thing as the Holter, but it could also be a boon for the everyday athlete. Wearables are already starting to give information about the body like heart rate, breathing rate, muscle fatigue and even an understanding of a bat swing in baseball and a stroke in golf.
“Athletes can improve their game and socialize their training,” Burrows said.
The biometric fitness shirt is just the beginning for DuPont when it comes to wearables.
“We’re working today with over 100 opportunities looking at smart clothing,” Burrows said in closing the talk. “We expect by Christmas season next year there will be smart clothing on the shelves, and we think within a three to five-year timeframe, everyone in this audience will have an item of smart clothing in their closet.”