The sartorial periphery of smartwatches, camera-sunglasses, and fitness trackers are the areas that wearable technology has been largely constrained to. Moisture-wicking, stretchiness, breathability are the areas of interest in terms of activewear and workout gear where much of the fabric tech in the apparel industry is devoted to.
Dealing mostly with athletics and personal care, smart garments have popped up here and there. And the innovation in the garment segment ends with shirts that record biometric data, such as heart and breathing rates as made by Ralph Lauren, Hexoskin, and Athos.
There’s a much simpler melding of clothing and energy, beyond all the fancy gadgetry. With clothes and accessories that can charge phones, fashion labels have long sought to lure shoppers. Chargers disguised as lipstick tubes were even made by Michael Kors. A line of jackets with solar panels was developed by Tommy Hilfiger. Phone-charging handbags were sold by Kate Spade. All need to be recharged via plug or mat.
Labels chasing the on-the-go shopper, especially in urban centers where there is more walking and less driving, could find appealing a flexible, lightweight fabric that can harvest energy from the sun.
The main holdup of shrinking a power plant down to pocket-size may not even be the most obvious.
The problems are however two fold. Working the same in all designs and sizes, without compromising its energy profile is one and cutting the electronics and sewing them together like regular fabric is another. And this, as claimed by some Chinese scientists, has been achieved to an extent.
A fabric that’s made from cotton and two advanced electronic fibers was claimed to have been developed by a team of researchers Bottom of Form
on oon Wednesday. While one fiber is able to generate power from sunlight, the other, called a “fiber supercapacitor,” is able to store the electrons and provide current, like a battery.
A critical area in smart-fabrics research – withstand the bending, twisting, and wrapping normal to industrial weaving, can be managed by their fabric, the scientists say. According to the new study, published in the journal ACS Nano, connecting a new swatch into a garment represents a “delicate sewing process,” and hence fixing rips in the fabric isn’t as easy as ironing on a new patch.
According to Wenjie Mai of Jinan University, the material works in natural and artificial light and has been tested at light intensities between 70 percent and 120 percent of the sun’s average. He said that the researchers are in touch with a few Chinese companies.
The authors, led by Zhisheng Chai, also of Jinan University, wrote that the solar fibers and power storage can be woven into “many possible patterns and tailor them into any designed shape without losing their performance” by the new techniques.
“This breakthrough makes it possible to produce stylish smart energy garments with enhanced user experience and more room for fashion design,” they said.
The Program for New-Century Excellent Talents in University, the Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong province, China, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China founded the research.
(Adapted by Bloomberg)