The future is coming. There are some who might argue that the future is here, with the advent of 5G networking technology and the Internet of Things coming to fruition. However, the full promise of IoT hasn’t quite arrived yet. Cities still aren’t wired and wireless, set up so that every little thing is interlinked with everything else. There are still industries that are slow to integrate that technology into their products.
However, the future is coming. It is always impending, even for something as ancient as the textile industry. A so-called “Internet of Textiles” is approaching. Just what is this, though? What parts of it are already here and what can we expect as the tech becomes more readily available?
The Internet of Textiles: What Are The Trends
Smart fabrics are already partly here since conductive fibers exist. They can be woven or knit, meaning they can be made into garments using equipment from Xdknitmachinery. With the right electronics and flexible circuit boards, you could make clothes that connect to a network or the cloud constantly. This opens up a lot of possibilities.
Wearable technology is already present, too. Smartwatches, things like Google Glass, and even just simple things like LED lights woven into jackets are examples. As technology improves, more applications for things like healthcare, the military, and fashion can come rolling out. Imagine sportswear that can track your vital signs, and you have an idea of what might be on the horizon.
Here’s an example of how the medical field might benefit from this. Imagine hospital gowns made with conductive e-textiles. Sensors are built into it, keeping an eye on vitals like the heartbeat and blood pressure. This data is then sent to doctors in real-time over a wireless connection, keeping doctors and nurses informed of their condition. You cut out bulky machinery and get real-time records of the vitals for analysis.
These same functions could be expanded to cover other things. Imagine clothing that can pick up radio signals and transmit them to wireless earpieces. Shoes that pick up the weight and pressure of footfalls as you run, allowing for better analysis of your stride. Military uniforms that can pick up on tension and stress levels in combat could help so many relevant areas of research.
Fibers that can conduct electrical current also open up practical possibilities. So much of our modern technology runs on batteries, and when the charge runs dry, they basically become glorified paperweights. However, conductive fibers can help alleviate that problem without relying on bulky power banks.
Storing a battery in your cardigan or jacket, then having the means to plug it into a phone, can allow your clothes to charge your personal devices. This allows you to use your gadgets anywhere you go without the need for anything bulky. Once you’re home, all you need to do is recharge the outfit. It’s a simple convenience and one that is on the horizon. Battery technology is the main hindrance here.
Reduced Manufacturing Time
Manufacturing time could also be reduced, due to the increasing availability of 3D printing. This technology has made things so much easier in many fields, and it’s only a matter of time before it has an impact on the textile industry as well. The main boon here would be lower production cost and a potential increase in efficiency. Entire patterns could be printed out, provided one has the necessary fabric.
Of course, even if 3D printing doesn’t become a major game changer for production, smart factories can still come into play. Machines that are connected to a network can provide data in real-time. This can include everything from safety information and controls to production statistics that can later be analyzed to improve overall efficiency.
However, it’s not all good things. One of the major concerns with the Internet of Things is security, and this applies even to smart textiles. All that data flying around is going to be hard to secure, and possibly accessible to truly determined people. There are many who are alarmed by the possibility of their own clothing transmitting data they would prefer to keep private.
There is also the concern of data integrity. Clothing won’t be wired to a terminal, so the connection is wireless. That is a lot of wireless signal going around, with data going to and from virtually anything. This data traffic could risk becoming potentially confused about anything that has to be transmitted over a long distance. This is less of a problem for short-range connections, like vital signs data being transmitted to your phone.
As standards of living rise alongside expectations, the technology and availability of smart clothing become more apparent. The Internet of Textiles is approaching. We can expect some changes in production, but the real changes will be in the functionality of the clothing we now wear. From sensors to communicating with other smart equipment, the future is looking at interwoven together as the shirt off your back.