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Winter 2003

Department Researchers Design E-textiles for Computerized Clothing & Military Applications

A section of an e-textile interwoven with electronic components. A 30-foot prototype was built for a military sensing project.
Mark Jones and Tom Martin have been awarded two contracts to design e-textiles—cloth interwoven with electronics. They have received an NSF Information Technology Research (ITR) grant to design wearable computers made of e-textiles and a Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract to develop e-textile fabrics for military sensing and communications.

When Tent Walls Can Talk

For the DARPA project, Jones and Martin are working with colleagues at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI). Called STRETCH, the project is aimed at developing large e-textile fabrics that look like typical military equipment, such as tents or camouflage nets, but with electronic wires and sensors woven into the fabric, for sensing and communications. Data from the electronics will be translated by software into images that will enable users to fix the location of detected sounds.

“The goal of the project is to develop a low-cost, flexibly deployable e-textile system that has low power requirements and doesn’t rely on radio waves,” said Jones. RF communication can alert an adversary to a military unit’s location.

In addition to sound detection, future uses of the STRETCH system could include detecting chemicals and picking up satellite signals.

Computerized Clothing

Jones and Martin are also working on an NSF project to develop e-textiles for special-function clothing, such as uniforms that help firefighters map their way through burning buildings, sportswear that tells athletes their speed and distance, or clothes that warn blind users about approaching objects. The most extensive uses, Martin believes, will be industrial applications in which wearable computers can display schematics for construction and maintenance workers, thus freeing their hands for tasks.
With electronics woven into the fabric, they are less susceptible to being tangled, he explained. “Consequently, e-textiles can be worn in everyday situations where currently available wearable computers would hinder the user,” he said.

The research team is exploring methods of dynamically tailoring the sensors and processing elements according to current needs of the user and application, rather than being fixed at design time.

They are also developing software that will help researchers plot the electronics woven into fabrics after they are fashioned into apparel, “so they’ll be able to figure out what is where when the clothing comes back from the tailor,” Martin said.

For more information, visit the e-textiles group webpage at http://www.ccm.ece.vt.edu/etextiles/.

 
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http://www.ece.vt.edu/news/feb03/etextile.html
Last updated: Wed, Apr 9, 2003