A new generation of wearable electronics has landed, and we'll soon see it in action. Clothing will become smarter, tracking performance data of Olympic contenders, golfers, soccer players and tennis stars. The technology will be embedded in wearable sensors that can help seniors prevent heart failure, manage diabetes and improve quality of life. And in everyday living, it can help anyone more easily track and record important activity data.
You may already own some wearable technology, such as jewelry, badges or shoes that attaches to your body or clothing and provides feedback on your habits. A fitbit, for example, can record your daily steps, calories burned, sleep activity, even heart rate. Thin wires from the tracker relay the information to batteries in your cell phones or other devices.
Taking wearable electronics to a new level are successful studies by the National Research Council of Canada's (NRC) Advanced Electronics and Photonics (AEP) Research Centre and the Taiwan Textile Research Institute (TTRI). The information they gathered allows manufacturers to embed electronic functionality into garments themselves. Using electricity-conductive ink to replace wires, the process draws working circuits onto various materials like paper, film or textiles. This eliminates moving parts, and ensures the circuits survive unlimited washing.
"Most inks now on the market are not stretchable, so when washed they can become brittle and lose conductivity," says Dr. Ye Tao, Team Lead, Printable Electronics, AEP. "For the past 5 years, we've been working with TTRI on this printing technology to embed electronic function into fabrics and clothing without wires. Dr. George Xiao went to TTRI twice, working side-by-side with our TTRI partners to improve the ink quality."
This stretchable conductive ink can withstand the 6 main washing tests: twisting, stretching, flexing, extruding, peeling and oxidation. And it can be cleaned with environmentally friendly chemicals, such as ethanol rather than highly toxic toluene or acetone.