Smart textiles and smart materials

Wearable computers for a better life

ICT is becoming an increasingly present albeit “invisible” part of our physical environment. Daily objects are “thinking with us”, “reacting” and “responding” to our wishes and needs thanks to integrated, miniaturised processors and sensors.

An ambient intelligence (AmI) is a room (house, office, hospital, home for the elderly…) crammed with sensors, actuators and computers that are interconnected and connected to the internet. The separate parts are controlled and activated by an ‘intelligent agent’ software that is familiar with the preferences of the occupants and able to adapt the environment according to their wishes. The occupants may communicate with this ambient intelligence by means of speech, movements or other actions.

One of the most useful applications is the creation of an guided surrounding for seniors and disabled people allowing them to manipulate several devices in the house, reminding them of taking their medicines, or that can automatically call for help in the event of an accident / fall or if certain vital functions are not functioning properly (e.g. pulse and respiration monitoring).

For these latter two examples, textile products with imbedded sensors or stimuli-responsive materials prove very interesting.

Centexbel conducts several research projects in this field.

MONSOTEX and OFSETH are studying viz. the development of smart textiles for sleep and health monitoring. SWEET is focused on the research and development of flexible, stretchable and washable smart textiles with an increased comfort.

Smart textiles can also be applied to monitor the structural safety of buildings and other constructions, as is being studied in the POLYTECT project.

Smart textiles can also be made by incorporating smart materials. These materials interact – according to their nature – with stimuli in their environment. In this respect, so-called “Thermochrome” materials change colour under the influence of changing temperatures (interesting to develop baby cloths that give an exact and continuous indication of the baby’s body temperature.

Other examples can be found in protective clothing for motorcyclists or bullet-proof vests incorporating dilatant materials that harden when hit and become supple again when the impact subsides. The advantage is that they are very light and supple and comfortable to wear. Also phase change materials offer possibilities to develop heat regulating decoration materials, an application that is investigated in the RETERMAT project.

Smart textiles arouse great interest among the textile companies that are developing products in collaboration with Centexbel.

Centexbel is also engaged in the newly created standardisation work group on ‘smart textiles’.