Scientists Developed Stretchable Smart Fabric

Scientists Developed Stretchable Smart Fabric
Chuan Wang, assistant professor of engineering at Michigan State University, displays the stretchable electronic material he and his research team developed in his lab. Photo by Kurt Stepnitz

Recent advances in technology bring the apparel, technology, and textile industries together to build new capabilities in fabric. Known by smart fabric, these new high-tech products interact with their user by tracking data about them through sensors. Likewise, scientists from Michigan State University have developed the first stretchable integrated circuit. The circuit is also known as stretchable smart fabric.

This stretchable smart fabric can be stretched easily from mini-size to extra large. It is entirely made from an inkjet printer. According to scientists, it could increase the possibility of inexpensive mass production of smart fabric.

Assistant professor Chuan Wang of electrical and computer engineering said, “We can conceivably make the costs of producing flexible electronics comparable to the costs of printing newspapers.

Generally, a smart fabric is created by fabricating nanomaterials and organic compounds. The compounds next dissolved in a solution to produce different electronic inks. Through this electronic ink, scientists created an elastic material, the circuit, and the organic light-emitting diode, or OLED by running the ink through the printer.

Wang said, “The stretchable smart fabric can be folded and put in one’s pocket without breaking. This is an advantage over current flexible electronics material technology that cannot be folded.

Generally, there are millions of pixels just underneath the screen of a smart tablet or a large display. But. scientists want to combine combining the circuit and OLED into a single pixel.

Scientists said, “Once we successfully combine the circuit and OLED into a working pixel, the smart fabric can be potentially commercialized. It will almost take one to two years.”

Our work could soon lead to printed displays that can easily be stretched to larger sizes, as well as wearable electronics and soft robotics applications.

Wang said, “We have created a new technology that is not yet available. And we have taken it one big step beyond the flexible screens that are about to become commercially available.

Potential applications of this stretchable smart fabric:

  • Stretched easily from mini-size to extra large.
  • Could use as rubber band-like wrist monitor that measures one’s heartbeat.
  • Used as wallpaper that turns an entire wall into an electronic display.

SEE MORE PERSPECTIVES