Researchers at University of Exeter in the UK believe graphene, widely accepted as being the thinnest material on earth, could hold the key to the creation of affordable, durable and mass-produced smart textiles.
A team at the university’s engineering department have developed a new technique to create electronic fibres that can be incorporated into the production of everyday clothing.
The researchers weave graphene-based fibres directly into the fabric, eliminating the need for additional materials like electrodes or wires. They have said this compares favourably with current methods which see the creation of wearable electronics by essentially gluing devices to fabrics. This can mean they are too rigid and susceptible to malfunctioning.
The technique allows for the creation of touch-sensor and light-emitting devices. Other potential applications for the technology include health monitoring, such as heart rates and blood pressure, and medical diagnostics.
Professor Monica Craciun, co-author of the research and leader of the project, said: “For truly wearable electronic devices to be achieved, it is vital that the components are able to be incorporated within the material, and not simply added to it.”
For her part, Dr Ana Neves, co-author and also from the University of Exeter’s engineering department, added: “The key to this new technique is that the textile fibres are flexible, comfortable and light, while being durable enough to cope with the demands of modern life.”
The international research project included experts from the Centre for Graphene Science at the University of Exeter, the Universities of Aveiro and Lisbon in Portugal, and CenTexBel in Belgium. Their findings have been published in scientific journal ‘Flexible Electronics’.