Levels of Intelligence in Smart Textiles

Levels of Smart Textiles

As discussed in a previous post, smart textiles are textiles specifically designed to be aware of stimulus in their surrounding biological environment; these changes are in turn designed to either improve the quality of life for the textile, or the wearer (in event of a wearable device). While at this point, most designers working with smart textiles focus on the physical improvement smart athletic-wear promotes, there are many other types and potential utilizations of smart textiles.

Some very brief context: ”Smart textiles”, and the materials used to create them, have been around for over 1000 years, but – as of the 1990s – are just making a major surge in the direction of textiles used to improve lifestyle.

There are three main types of smart textiles that each record or perform different functions. At its most basic level, passive smart textiles are materials that are equipped with sensors to record the changes in surrounding environment. It does not do anything to change or improve the condition, it simply records the data collected via woven in sensors. It can show that a change has occurred through a visual, such as a fiber-optic change of color for example.

Active smart textiles do slightly more. They are equipped with both a sensor (often, passive smart textiles are involved in the development of an active smart textile) and an actuator, which allows them to act on the stimuli recorded. When an active smart textile encounters environmental change, it reacts to improve to comfort of the wearer. Some examples include thermo-regulated textiles, vapor absorbing or wicking textiles, chameleonic textiles, or shape memory textiles (source).

The last smart textile type is the very smart textile. This smart textile comes equipped with a unit that allows for the fabric to have reaction, reasoning, and cognition capability. Very smart textiles can be compared to artificial intelligence, and it is highly likely that many future wearables will involve the use of very smart textiles to most improve quality of life.

The most common elements within smart textiles are conductive fibers, which are small fibers that are woven directly into the garment. This removes any bulkiness or sense of actually wearing a wearable, as it is simply a part of the fabric. These are the basis of the newest project – called Project Jacquard – from Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP). Jacquards first collaboration was with none other than fellow global-power Levi’s; they have designed a trucker style jacket with conductive fibers woven into the sleeve. The goal of this project is to not only integrate interactivity directly into the textile, but also to create a “blank canvas to the fashion industry…adding new layers of functionality to their designs without having to learn about electronics” (source).

ATAP just announced their new collaboration will be with none other than CINTAS, and they will be developing a new smart garment for the hospital environment. The intention of this collaboration is to improve not only the lives of doctors and nurses, but also to improve the efficiency and attention that they are able to give to their patients.

While smart textiles seem new, they have been around for over 1000 years, and seem to be making leaps and bounds as of late. I predict many new applications of smart textiles in the future, branching out from the athletic field and into aspects of daily life.