Not only protecting human body against heat and cold, the fabrics are now accepting the role of regulating body temperature. These heat modifying textiles are mostly used to make outdoor garments such as hats, beanies, windbreakers and jackets. There are many techniques for making such clothes, one of which is- treating the fabric with paraffins. As the body gets hot, the paraffins become more liquid to let the heat pass out and as the body gets cold, it solidifies so that it keeps back the heat with the wearer. Some other fabrics that are wired up, conduct electricity for monitoring body temperature. At the same time, the inbuilt mp3 player can entertain the wearer! The amazing part is that, when made from conductive yarn, they are machine washable, wear and feel like any conventional clothing. They are the first generation smart fabrics, and guess what, the second generation smart fabrics will be treated with Inherently Conductive Polymers (ICP) allowing the fabric to transmit energy to heat and cool the body without any electrical wiring!
Health Monitoring Fabrics
Now regular visits for health related tests can be forgotten! Wear the Health Monitoring Electronic Wearables and stay free of worries. The most prevalent among these health smart fabrics are the microencapsulated fabrics, especially in the natural health sector. The clothings enriched with substances like vitamins, algae or nutrients along with other substances to delay ageing or for improving blood circulation or other such benefits are fast becoming popular with the masses. Medically beneficial electrically conductive smart fabrics are no far behind. These life vests can track heart rate, ECG and body temperature. Now the research results are claiming to have developed a smart fabric that could warn its wearer of allergens, by glowing in response.
There is smart bra too that detects breast cancer at the earliest possible stage, making a cure much more likely. It uses a microwave antennae device built into the structure of the bra and the embedded microchips collects data through computer generated images. The other health-enhancing electronic clothings include fall-detecting smart shirt that uses a built-in motion-detection hardware to detect if the user has fallen and can't get up. Really useful for older people! Then there is underwear having sensors woven into the fabric to detect heart rate. Some of them can even dial emergency number if they detect a problem. Now, that's called a real smart fabric!!
Some Interesting Smart Fabrics
There are certain clothings that not only are an important landmark in the world of smart fabrics but are also very effective in handling day-to-day problems that look small but in fact which are very typical and sometimes embarrassing too. The new generation of wool fabrics, the moisture wicking wool helps in keeping the body dry by pulling moisture away from it. They are extensively used in active sportswear. Silver is extensively added to the composition of the fabric itself. Underwear treated with such silver are proving to be permanent anti-bacterial treatments and keeping away the problem of odor. 'Sensory Perception Technology' has also been developed that adds smells to fabrics. A pair of underpants that filters out the smell of emitted gas from the wearer has in fact tackled one of the world's most embarrassing body odor problems. With the underpants made of plastic, the only place for gases to exit the body is through a triangular pocket strategically placed over the bottom. Inside the pocket is a piece of carbon that filters out smelly gases as they pass through, making the wind more palatable to the nose on the other side.
Its not that the smart fabrics are only used in making clothing. Certain other products are also been made for the comfort of human kind. There are bags that have iPod controller built into the strap. Thus, the user can control music when even the iPod stays in the bag. Not only this, the bags keep the valuable items protected from thieves, weather, and bumps and scratches too! Then there are hi tech portable fabric keyboards that can be rolled up when not in use so that they fit into a pocket or a handbag! They are full size typing surface that can pair through bluetooth to smartphones, PDAs & other hand held devices to give the users a totally mobile office!
A lot of Research and development goes into making of a single smart fabric. It requires a lot of energy for getting the fibers move and work as desired and at the same time the properties of a textile, such as drape or comfort, also have to be maintained. Although the smart fabrics are very useful for remotely monitoring the elderly, workers, or soldiers for things like heart rate, skin temperature, and movement and also the textile companies are interested in smart fabrics for making everyday clothes, yet the cost involved in making such clothings are very very high today. It deters the common man to use such smart fabrics as an everyday solution. It remains to see how these challenges are taken by the scientists and the textile manufacturers and how the hi tech textile comes within the reach of common man!