Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have decided to expand on what is possible with near-field signaling technologies. You have likely paid for something by holding your phone or credit card close to the reader, but what if you could also start your car just by getting in because the vehicle responds to the fabric of your clothing, or complete a transaction with a simple high-five? In a paper recently published in Nature Electronics, the team from UCI’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering details the creation of flexible textiles capable of battery-free communication between articles of clothing and nearby devices.
According to their research, body area networks that operate across the complex human body “typically suffer from short ranges, low power, of the need for direct-connection terminals.” However, textile-integrated metamaterials can be used to drive long-distance near-field communication between multiple objects, creating multi-node wireless networks. Built from arrays of discrete, anisotropic magneto-inductive elements, the metamaterials create a mechanically flexible system capable of communicating with NFC-enabled devices placed anywhere close to the network. These networks can, in turn, drive developments across industries, including in the development of advanced healthcare monitoring technologies.
The innovative design is flexible enough to be tolerant of bodily motion, and because the signals travel via magnetic induction rather than continuous hardwire connections, it is possible to coordinate a network across multiple pieces of clothing. The materials involved are both low-cost and simple to fabricate and customize, including the ability to heat-press sensors into existing articles of clothing rather than buying bespoke high-tech fashion.
While this has numerous potential applications, including further HCI possibilities in smart devices and wearable, discrete security badges, the possibilities in healthcare alone are countless. By integrating the sensors into hospital gowns, staff would be free from the task of applying numerous patient sensors. Overall, the goal is to create designs that are not only cool and innovative but are also inexpensive and convenient, bringing modern electronics further into our lives while eliminating some of the associated burdens.