Sure, fitness trackers or a 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 shirt you're wearing right now. Except woven with circuit board thread instead of cotton.
In a study published this week 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 computerized 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 will fail. Crucially, they can also endure water and intense wear — which means that throwing them in the washer 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, damn it — the team in Hong Kong has their sights set on a far more impactful application. 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 cop 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]