Smart Textiles and Intelligent Textiles
Smart textiles are textiles that can sense and react to environmental conditions or stimuli from mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical, or magnetic sources. Smart textiles may combine fabrics with glass, ceramics, metal, or carbon to produce lightweight hybrids with incredible properties. Sophisticated finishes, such as silicone coatings and holographic laminates, transform color, texture, and even form.
The smart textile industry is still at a nascent stage of development with many new innovations in the pipeline. But it is bound to change the way we look at textiles. These 21st century textiles will signify the true merger of textile and information industries.
Smart textiles are a field which seems to be intellectually rewarding to a keen researcher. It is a challenge of sorts since we are not only talking about smart materials but also about the use of such materials as textiles. Thus smart materials have to be intelligently engineered to be used as textiles. Particularly if these materials are to be used as apparels, then a lot of factors like feel, density, aesthetic value, processing (during manufacturing and after use) need to be considered. We are not just interested in making fancy electronic components, but in making textiles which can be used like ordinary apparels though having the characteristics of electronic systems. Present research in smart textiles all over the world focuses on the following broad areas18:
- For sensors/ actuators-
- Photo sensitive materials
- Fiber optics
- Conductive polymers
- Thermally sensitive materials
- Shape memory materials
- Intelligent coating/ membrane
- Chemical responsive polymers
- Mechanical response materials
- Micro capsules
- Micro and nanomaterials
- For signal transmission, processing and controls-
- Neural network and control systems
- Cognition theory and systems
- For integrated processes and products-
- Adaptive and responsive structures
- Wearable computing
- Tissue engineering
- Chemical/ drug release
A particularly interesting objective is clothing which represents the ideal interface medium between humans and their environment. Everyone wears clothes in several layers one above the other in all day-to-day situations, which means that it is possible to accommodate micro system components comparatively simply and comfortably.
The objective should now be to focus on integrating microchip and computer systems as invisibly as possible into clothing, thus connecting man as unobtrusively as possible with his environment and equipping him as a communication medium. This is a field of innovation and a future potential of fascinating proportions which also opens up interesting possibilities in commercial terms. Clothing as a carrier medium is thus developing into a high-tech product, which will substantially enhance its status.
A smart polymer or material can be described as a material that will change its characteristics according to outside conditions or stimuli.
Current developments in textile technologies, new materials, nanotechnology and miniature electronics, and wearable makes systems more convenient, but the most important parameter for users to accept wearable devices is comfort is sufficient. This is recognized as a challenging environment for the human body and the environment, mechanics resistance, and durability. In addition, the circuit design of the development of intelligent textiles, the knowledge of intelligent materials, microelectronics, and chemistry is basically integrated with a deep understanding of textile production. It requires a multidisciplinary approach.