E-textiles have become ubiquitous in numerous industries over the last few years. While e-textiles are more visible than ever, especially in sports contexts, many people are not familiar with the differences between standard textiles and e-textiles.
To put it simply, e-textiles contain components that enable them to serve as part of an electronic system. These components are often electric wires. However, some e-textiles use monofilament or conductive yarn. E-textiles can monitor sensations, transmit data, receive transmissions from elsewhere in the electronic system, and more. There are many types of e-textiles that can be customized and adapted for various situations. Read on to learn more about the various types of e-textiles.
Embedded e-textiles are one of the two major types of e-textiles. They have become more popular recently than the other type, laminated e-textiles. Embedded e-textiles have electronic components woven into the fabric. One example of an embedded e-textile is a pair of gloves that have conductive yarn woven into the fabric for heating purposes.
Embedded e-textiles are more comfortable for everyday use, as they do not include bulky sensors like laminated e-textiles. Embedded e-textiles are limited in terms of the power and complexity of the electronic systems they can contain. This will likely change in the near future as sensors and circuitry become smaller and thinner.
Laminated e-textiles have not received as much attention as embedded e-textiles in recent years. This is probably because laminated e-textiles can be bulkier, while embedded e-textiles are more visually appealing.
Laminated e-textiles do not contain electronic components woven into the fabric. Instead, circuitry and sensors are produced separately and attached to the fabric. One example of a laminated e-textile would be a tank top for athletes that contains sewn-in sensors which monitor vital signs during activity. As evidenced by this example, laminated e-textiles can contain more complex sensors and circuitry than embedded e-textiles at the current moment. However, the development of advanced technologies like fabric circuit boards may narrow the gap between the capabilities of embedded e-textiles and laminated e-textiles.
Examples of E-Textile Products
One of the most popular types of e-textiles found on the consumer market is heated apparel. For example, heated gloves made with e-textiles are already relatively common and affordable. These gloves contain conductive fibers that are woven into a warm fabric. The conductive fibers can heat up and keep the wearer’s hands warm in extremely cold conditions, making them far more effective than standard gloves. Some types of heated apparel can even be controlled via a smartphone app that allows users to turn on the heating function and adjust the amount of heat transmitted.
Wearable Tech in Space
Where the need for innovative ideas is at its greatest, advancements in space exploration have pushed the limits of the e-textile. On the International Space Station, smartwatches assess astronaut sleep patterns and heart rates. They also help ground crew diagnose the mental fitness of astronauts.
Textiles like Astroskin, move measurements from one point of contact (the wrist) to a wider area (e.g. entire upper body).
Since there are no laundry facilities in space, astronauts tend to wear outfits. Having sensors and data recorders built directly into their everyday clothing gives the crew a holistic view of astronaut health and wellbeing.
In cramped and reused spaces like shuttles and stations, smells like trash and body odor accumulate over time. Although astronauts adjust to the “smell of space” without issue, this poses a threat for the detection of more potentially harmful smells. So NASA is developing a different type of smart textile: antimicrobials.
Not live circuitry, antimicrobials use the same elements as other smart textiles. The fabric, which is usually polyester, and a conductive metal, like zinc or silver.
A Shirt With an Integrated Heart-Rate Monitor
As previously mentioned, many athletes these days wear undershirts with integrated sensors that monitor vital signs. Recently, these laminated e-textiles have become more affordable and more widely available on the consumer market. They are becoming popular amongst amateur athletes, especially runners and other endurance athletes. Some non-athletes with heart conditions are even wearing these e-textiles to keep an eye on their vital signs.
Applications in Medicine
E-textiles are even more present in medicine, as medical staff strives to improve the patient experience.
Patient gowns are the most recent garment to undergo a tech upgrade. In some hospitals, e-gowns allow doctors to monitor vital signs through electrodes woven into the gown fabric. For patients undergoing cardiac rehabilitation, this data can be aggregated over time, and measure the effectiveness of the rehab plan.
For patients recovering from a traumatic event, or dealing with an ongoing health issue, e-textiles help outside of the hospital. A tech inner layer (e.g. undershirt) can be worn by patients on a daily basis. Data can be monitored by patients and physicians to assess how well they are recovering.
Blood Oxygen Monitor
Blood oxygen monitors, also known as pulse oximeters, are commonly found in hospitals. The gray or beige device that clips onto the end of a patient’s finger is a pulse oximeter. Pulse oximeters are also available to consumers in the same form. Apple took the technology a step further by offering a blood oxygen monitoring function with their Apple Watch product. Recently, fabric wristbands with integrated blood oxygen monitors have become available. The sensors in these wristbands can send data to an app on the user’s smartphone.
With telehealth becoming a new standard, biometric clothing will allow physicians to accurately perform remote diagnoses.
Compression Shorts that Measure Running Metrics
Runners have been at the forefront of consumer e-textiles, which has spurred the development of tech-like shorts that measure running metrics. These shorts can not only measure the distance that a runner has traveled and the speed of their run, they can even transmit data about the runner’s technique. Poor running technique can lead to foot and ankle injuries in short order. Runners can avoid these injuries by checking the data from their e-textile shorts and adjusting their phones according to recommendations from a connected app on their smartphone.
A Backpack With a GPS Transmitter
GPS transmitters can be integrated into e-textiles. These e-textiles can serve a variety of functions, but they are very popular among parents who want to keep a close eye on their children. The GPS transmitters can send the child’s location in real-time to the parent’s phone or computer.
A Gaming Vest That Simulates Real Combat
There are many gamers who enjoy immersive first-person shooter (FPS) games. These gamers are always looking to make their experience even more immersive. There are gaming vests on the market that simulate combat by pulsing against the player’s body whenever they take a hit. When combined with a virtual reality headset, this offers FPS aficionados an unmatched degree of realism.
Applications for E-Textiles
E-textiles are already in use in a wide variety of industries, and their use is only becoming more widespread. For example, e-textiles have been in use in the defense sector for years now. American soldiers routinely receive combat training using specialized weapons that fire lasers and e-textiles that record hits.
Firefighters across the world also use e-textiles. These e-textiles perform a wide range of functions, including lighting up so that firefighters can see each other in dark and smoky environments.
E-textiles may have garnered the most attention for their use in athletics competitions. Soccer players, for example, frequently wear tank tops that monitor their movement and vital signs. Some groundbreaking gaming companies, especially in the virtual reality (VR) space, are using motion-tracking e-textiles to create a more immersive experience.
Explore Your Options
There are so many types of e-textiles on the market right now. After reading this, you may already have a few ideas of how you can take advantage of this groundbreaking technology.
If so, please view our e-textile products for more information on the smart textiles we have on offer, and how they can be customized to suit your business needs.