Researchers Develop Smart Apparel That Can Open Doors, Unlock Smartphones
If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t tend to give too much thought to the technology you use in your daily life. Call me ignorant, but it’s supposed to be intuitive, like all good tools should be. I don’t think about the physics behind the design of a hammer as I swing it down onto the head of a nail—frankly, I’m more focused on trying not to smash my fingers.
What the “smart” tag on things like smartphones or, in this case, smart apparel, means is that an object or device is able to interact not only with humans and the physical world, but also with the virtual world. They allow for ubiquitous connectivity between humans and other devices or virtual environments. These smart devices and objects are designed to make life easier, and as technology has progressed, they have become smaller and more inconspicuous.
And so, we return to smart fabric. Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, has co-authored a paper detailing his team’s research on smart fabric technology. Possibly the most exciting part of this research is the possibility of implementing security features, like pass codes, into items like shirts, ties and gloves.
Using magnets, the researchers aligned the randomly ordered magnetic poles on conductive thread. This allowed them to focus the poles in negative and positive directions, corresponding with the 1s and 0s used in digital data. The researchers sewed patches of this conductive thread onto clothing items and accessories such as a shirt cuff, a tie, a belt, a wristband and a necklace.
This is where it gets interesting: The magnetized fabric is able to store small amounts of data, which can then be read by a magnetometer, a small, inexpensive sensor which, among other uses, allows your smartphone to know which direction it is pointed in while using a mapping application.
The researchers were able to do some pretty cool things with the fabric, such as unlocking a door with a magnetized shirt cuff by storing the passcode for the electronic lock inside the fabric. They also made a glove with a magnetized fingertip that they used to make recognizable gestures at a smartphone with, suggesting that the technology could eventually be used to interact with our phones without having to remove them from our pockets. With the popularity of smartphone gloves that allow us to type while staying warm, this would follow that with even more advanced technology.
Not only this, but the fabric was also able to function after being washed, dried and ironed, according to the MIT Technology Review. This could answer a problem faced by other smart garments that feature wearable electronics which need to be removed before cleaning and are susceptible to the weather.
What does this mean for promotional apparel? One thing for certain: End-users want promotional products and apparel that are useful, not just aesthetically pleasing or gimmicky. That’s why well-designed promotional apparel is so successful.
Now, imagine that this apparel could accomplish tasks like unlocking doors and storing data such as passwords. With smart fabric, a shirt or pair of gloves could do much more than look stylish and carry a company logo—it could actually have a useful impact on an end-user’s daily life. This could mean big money for promotional products distributors looking for new and innovative ways to reach end-buyers and users.