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Military transforming from wearables into Smart textiles that combine sensing, actuation,communication and processing into the fabric

The past few years have seen the introduction of a number of wearable technologies, from fitness trackers to smart watches but with the increasing use of smart textiles, wearables are set to become ‘disappearables’ as the devices merge with textiles, according to a new report from Cientifica.Unlike today’s ‘wearables’ tomorrow’s devices will be fully integrated into the the garment through the use of conductive fibres, multilayer 3D printed structures and two dimensional materials such as graphene


Smart fabric is a traditional fabric with added interactive functionality such as power generation or storage, sensing, radio frequency functioning, human interface elements and/or assistive technology. With the help of nano-materials, nano-biotechnology, and nano-electronics, electronic components such as actuators, control units, and sensors, are embedded into smart textiles. Smart textiles have applications in medical, sports, personal protective equipment, geo-protection, military, and aerospace sectors, where sensing and monitoring are already used and would only be made more efficient if integrated with textiles.


The growing need for supportive and performance-enhancing garments has led to the rapid induction of smart textiles in the military sector. Governments across the world are focusing on equipping their soldiers with the latest firearms including sophisticated military clothing that enhances soldiers’ performance during combat operations, according to Technavio’s market research analyst.


Electronic textiles not only increase performance, but also add various other functionalities that have never been realised before. The various functionalities where electronic textiles are making inroads include  health monitoring, communication (both wired and wireless), enhanced mobility, survivability, reduction of heat stress, reduction of logistic burdens, camouflage and signature management (Scott, 2005; Wilusz, 2008). Some of the recent functionalities achieved by integration of e-textiles include physiological status monitoring, wearable power supplies, and sensing of environmental conditions as well as the detection of chemical and biological threats.


Moreover, the growing inclination towards camouflage optimization among military personnel has augmented the use of camouflage textiles in the military segment. These textiles not only protect the army personnel from visual and infrared light but also heat and sweat, subsequently ensuring that soldiers carry out their operations smoothly.

Many countries are now investigating the application of various electronic devices integrated into textiles for military use. The special programme “Soldiers of the Future” was launched by the United States in the 1990s and investigated the benefits of smart textiles for soldiers. Two different training and education initiatives have been sponsored by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on the application of advanced textiles for civil protection and defence


Constant technological innovations in this market have led to an added range of functionalities and capabilities to smart textiles used in the military sector. Smart textiles are being integrated with adaptive insulation property to enhance warmth in military clothing, sleeping bags, and blankets. Also, manufacturers are developing smart textiles that have the potential for physiological and locational monitoring and energy harvesting.


Current research on military textiles includes the improvement in the ballistic protection level (which is the primary requirement), and the developments of new designs with integrated sensors and embedded sensing technologies in clothing, backpacks or tents for other functionalities.


Smart textiles

Smart fabrics are the amalgamation of conventional textile materials and polymer hydrogels imparting advanced properties. These textiles help to regulate body temperature, control muscle vibrations, and protect from environmental hazards such as radiation.Nanotechnology is being increasingly used to impart special functionality into fibers such as water and stain resistant, UV protection, and anti-bacterial.


Another application of smart textiles is Textile electrodes that play an important role within a variety of medical applications such as sensors and or actuators. Advantages of textile electrodes are its ductility, flexibility, conductivity, functionality for muscle and nerve stimulation as well as surveillance of body signals such as EMG and ECG. A vital part of textile electrodes are conductive yarns or fabrics integrated in the clothing directly, ensuring mobility


Smart textiles include conductive materials such as silver, copper, nickel. The smart fibers are manufactured by using yarn with woven or knitted interactive materials, which can interact with the environment or the user. Globally, the smart textiles were manufactured using woven or knitting technologies, however with recent advancements, electronics conductive inks can be printed on textiles. Dupont has invented conductive inks that can be printed on the textiles and can be used for longer period of time. Such textiles are also referred to as e-textiles


Smart textiles can act as a sensor and also initiate movement in response to a stimulus.

The team from the University of Wollongong, Australia, and the University of Texas in Dallas, USA, have developed an innovative smart material consisting of carbon nanotubes and Lycra fibres can act as a sensor and also initiate movement in response to a stimulus.


“Our recent work allowed us to develop smart clothing that simultaneously monitors the wearer’s movements, senses strain and adjusts the garment to support or correct the movement,” explained Javad Foroughi, the project’s lead researcher who works at the Wollongong University’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES)


“We have already made intelligent materials as sensors and integrated them into devices such as a knee sleeve that can be used to monitor the movement of the joint, providing valuable data that can be used to create a personalized training or rehabilitation program for the wearer,” said lead researcher Javad Foroughi of ACES. “Our recent work allowed us to develop smart clothing that simultaneously monitors the wearer’s movements, senses strain, and adjusts the garment to support or correct the movement.”


The researchers said the new material, which could be easily manufactured on an industrial scale, has a mechanical work capacity and power output exceeding that of human muscles. The team envisions the technology could be used in robotics or to make sensors for lab-on-chip devices


Materials with Intelligence

Researchers from  School of Computer Science and Informatics at UCD Dublin and the Centre for Adaptive Wireless Systems at Cork IT, Ireland, are  starting to explore the tools and techniques we need in order to build ‘augmented materials’ which combine sensing, actuation and processing into the fabric of built objects.The researchers are using Ireland’s Tyndall National Institute’s 2.5cm-on-a-side motes, which are being reduced to a 1cm form and beyond, making them realistic for embedded use.”

“Embedding sensing into a physical substrate has a number of attractions. Each sensor package can sense a number of local variables such as the stress on the material, its orientation in space, its proximity to other materials etc. Combine these sensors into a network and we can construct a global view of the material and its relationships to the real world. Add processing and we have the potential to build materials that “know themselves”, in some sense, and which can react in ways that are far more sophisticated than are possible with simpler, ‘smart’ materials,” write Simon Dobson and Kieran Delaney in ERCIM News.

These materials can be used to  warn patients  if they are overdoing their exercise  recommended by downloaded therapy programme. It is even possible to build materials with variable rigidity so that the cast adapts the support it provides over the course of treatment.

“Augmented materials are in many ways the ideal co-design challenge. The properties of the material determine directly what can be sensed and processed, while software provides capabilities to enhance and complement the material’s underlying physics. A physical phenomenon, such as placing one augmented object on top of another, gives rise to individual sensor readings affecting pressure, orientation and the establishing of new wireless communications links etc. These in turn give rise to a semantic inference that can be used in software to drive high-level responses based on the intention inferred from performing this particular action with these particular objects.”




Smart Textile’ Turns Body Movements Into Power Source

Scientists in China and the United States have designed a fabric that can power wearable devices by harvesting energy from both sunlight and body movements and can be produced on a standard industrial weaving machine. Combining two types of electricity generation into one textile paves the way for developing garments that could provide their own source of energy to power devices such as smart phones or global positioning systems.


The fabric is based on low-cost, lightweight polymer fibers coated with metals and semiconductors that allow the material to harvest energy. The solar cells constructed from lightweight polymer fibers are weaved with fiber-based triboelectric nanogenerators along with wool on high-throughput commercial weaving equipment to create a textile just 0.01 inches (0.32 millimeters) thick.Wang envisions that the new fabric could be integrated into tents, curtains or wearable garments.


“It is highly deformable, breathable and adaptive to human surface curves and biomechanical movement,” said Xing Fan, one of the fabric’s inventors and an associate professor of chemical engineering at Chongqing University in China. “And this approach enables the power textile to be easily integrated with other functional fibers or electronic devices to form a flexible, self-powered system.”


In a paper published online in the journal Nature Energy, the researchers described how they used a layer-by-layer process similar to those employed in the semiconductor industry. Using this method, they coated polymer fibers with various materials to create cable-like solar cells that generate electricity from sunlight and also so-called triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG).


The TENGs rely on the triboelectric effect, by which certain materials become electrically charged when rubbed against another type of material. When the materials are in contact, electrons flow from one to the other, but when the materials are separated, the one receiving electrons will hold a charge, Fan said.


If these two materials are then connected by a circuit, a small current will flow to equalize the charges. By continuously repeating the process, an alternating electrical current can be produced to generate power, Fan added.


By tweaking the patterns and configurations of the textile, the researchers found they could tune the power output and customize it for specific applications by aligning the TENGs with the direction of body movements so that they can capture as much energy as possible, or by using different patterns for high-light and low-light environments.


“This is very important. Different applications have different requirements. For example, the voltage requirement of a cellphone is different from that of an electronic watch,” Fan told Live Science. “Also, people walking between buildings in London may have less sunshine than those running on the beach in California.”


The team has yet to conduct long-term durability tests, but after 500 cycles of bending, there was no drop in performance, Fan said. However, the study noted that electrical output of the TENG did gradually drop to 73.5 percent of its original performance when relative humidity was increased from 10 percent to 90 percent.


Still, the fabric’s full performance can be recovered if the device is dried out, Fan said. He added that encapsulating the textile in an inert material using a common heat-wrapping process should counteract the issue.

BAE joins ITL to deliver a revolutionary piece of new wearable technology which can turn clothing into networked technology

BAE has entered into exclusive partnership with world-leading e-textiles developer, Intelligent Textiles Limited (ITL), to deliver a revolutionary piece of new wearable technology which can turn clothing into networked technology. Broadsword® Spine® is an e-textile based layer that when added to a user’s clothing creates an invisible electronic network and power supply, by using conductive fabrics instead of wires and cables. With the innovative network, users can plug vital electronic devices straight into their vest, jacket or belt and have them instantly hooked into power and data via USB – all delivering an estimated 40 per cent weight saving per user versus alternative solutions.


“The problem a soldier faces at the moment is that he’s carrying 60 AA batteries [to power all the equipment he carries],” said Thompson. “He doesn’t know what state of charge those batteries are at, and they’re incredibly heavy. He also has wires and cables running around the system. He has snag hazards – when he’s going into a firefight, he can get caught on door handles and branches, so cables are a real no-no.”


Working together, our Company and ITL will be ready to deliver these lightweight devices to personnel including the armed forces, fire and rescue services and law enforcement, all of whom rely on carrying electronic equipment and having a durable power supply for long periods of use.


Broadsword® Spine® is also designed to be robust enough to operate in the harshest environments, including being resistant to water, fire, humidity and shock – and can be easily recharged in the field via in-vehicle charging points or through simple battery replacements.


Rise of the iSoldier

BAE Systems has created its Broadsword range of devices that revolve around a vest called Spine. Spine uses so-called e-textiles to wirelessly charge military equipment – and this energy use can be monitored using a smartphone app. Eight devices can be plugged in and charged at any one time, and the vest’s electrically conductive yarns can also be used to charge other gadgets wirelessly. BAE’s inductive seat charger transfers energy from a vehicle to the vest and all of this energy use can be monitored using a smartphone app.


The squaddies’ uniform was thus turned into a power- and data-distribution system containing a single battery pack, eliminating trailing wires and the need to spend 40 minutes at the end of each day checking whether the AA cells need replacing. The grant also allowed them to make the technology less conspicuous, using electromagnetic screening to prevent soldiers being detected by enemy troops while wearing their super-charged uniform.


Spine was developed by the London-based defence firm with Surrey-based Intelligent Textiles Design. It can power up and transfer data to and from equipment such as radios, cameras, smart helmets and torches, as well as smart weapons – effectively working as a portable hotspot.



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