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The Future of Wearable Technology

(February/March 2016) posted on Mon Mar 07, 2016

Why screen printers should care about the development of apparel infused with electronic sensors and circuitry.

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By Eileen Fritsch

Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz of CuteCircuit, founded in London in 2004, believe that wearable technology is not a gadget strapped to your wrist. “A piece of wearable technology should be a beautiful garment that allows the human body to become an interface, a sort of second skin, that can connect us to people and places, even far away and remote ones,” the duo says in a statement on their website. CuteCircuit creations include a mini-dress that changes color as the wearer moves. The dress is machine washable and USB rechargeable. A Twitter-controlled black evening dress changes color when the wearer receives a tweet. Katy Perry lit up the Met Gala red carpet wearing a twinkling CuteCircuit gown.

Artist Melissa Coleman, who co-curated the Dutch traveling exhibition Pretty Smart Textiles that toured Europe from 2010-2012, designed a dress that lights up when biosensors detect that the wearer may be telling a lie. The intensity of the light grows as the likelihood of a lie increases. Once the dress determines the wearer is lying, it can punish her with an electric shock. Coleman currently teaches with Codasign in London.

Automotive: Soft sensors in automotive upholstery or seatbelts could automatically adjust safety features such as airbags or detect medical emergencies such as heart attacks or seizures. Seatbelt harnesses could detect body temperature and then adjust cabin temperature or window-tint levels.

Strategic Alliances Are Now Forming
Research on smart textiles, thin-film components, and soft sensors has been progressing for well over a decade. But it is shifting into high gear with the ubiquity of smartphone apps, the adoption of electronic medical records, and advances in nanotechnology and the IoT.

The increased pace of R&D has spawned dozens of new startups and research labs. To help advance flexible, printed electronics from R&D to commercialization, FlexTech Alliance was formed to support expanded collaboration among industry, academia, and research organizations.

In August, the Obama administration announced a new flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing innovation hub in Silicon Valley. More than $171 million will be invested in efforts to improve the US’ standing in pioneering next-generation bendable and wearable electronic devices.


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