Sure, fitness trackers or heart rate monitors are technically "wearables". But a new breakthrough in electronic textiles gives us a glimpse at truly wearable electronics—and they look a lot like the clothes you're wearing right now. Except they are woven with circuit board thread instead of cotton.
In a study published yesterday in Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Hong Kong Polytechnic researchers Qiao Li and Xiao Ming Tao introduced a whole new type of circuit: FCB, or fabric circuit boards. These electronics are woven out of a mixture of copper and elastic threads using computerised knitting technologies. They're just like your average textiles—except they can carry a current and communicate.
What makes these wearable circuits so cool — and potentially groundbreaking — is how durable they are. Each of these insulated threads can carry a current, but thanks to their elastic content, they're also extremely stretchable. According to New Scientist, you can stretch them 20 per cent up to a million times before they'll fail. Crucially, they can also endure water and intense wear, which means that throwing them in the washing machine repeatedly is fine. You certainly can't say as much for the other fragile, gadget-like wearables out there.
And while fabric like this could be a boon for your average consumer — who just wants to know how many calories they burned during their yoga class — the team in Hong Kong has their sights set on an application with far more impact. Quite literally. As part of a durability test, they actually shot bullets at the fabric, sewn underneath a layer of kevlar, simulating what a soldier or police officer might endure in the field.
It turns out their wired fabric survived—and it could still communicate after being shot. A fitness-tracking shirt is cool and all, but a vest that lets a central base know if a soldier's been wounded could be groundbreaking. [New Scientist]