Have you ever found yourself in the embarrassing situation of leaving a store with its electronic security tag still attached? Or taken a garment home from the store only to find that it’s lacking tags with information that you need for it?
Then take heart. The days of those pesky garment tags may be coming to an end. In fact, technology may not only be making security, care, and sales tags unnecessary on clothing in future. It may make the clothing itself provide its own security and information. The University of Washington recently announced that one of its research teams has developed fabric that can be “read” by mobile devices.
Its inventors have christened their product “smart” fabric, since it contains conductive threads that can be read by smart phones. This is made possible by using magnets to install information on the fabric’s threads. Using a built in meter, smart phones can then scan and interpret the information embedded on the threads. Such information can be fairly complex and include 2D images. The smart fabric looks and feels just like ordinary fabric. It can also be used, laundered, and ironed without damaging either it or the information that it contains. While the threads are demagnetized when laundered, they soon regain their potency from the surrounding environment.
Research has also shown that the entire garment doesn’t need to be present for this fabric to be able to “communicate” with smartphones. Experiments in which a few conductive threads from a smart garment are concealed within a “non-smart” one show that these threads can still transmit data. A special application downloaded to devices is currently the only way to “talk” to this fabric.
These connective threads aren’t compromised by elasticizing or adding other features to this fabric. The fabric can be used to control technology via hand commands, so this fabric is being developed for use in gloves and wristbands. Smart fabric belt buckles are being created as well.
Real world short term practical applications for this product are assumed to be security oriented. The technology is proving to be resistant to hacking, making it even more attractive for this type of use. Accessories made from this fabric can be used to allow individuals entry through security perimeters as opposed to a badge or typed in code. There are no current plans to develop this fabric for large scale commercial use. Future versions may be useful for home security systems, however. And given how digital shopping in general is becoming, the day may be coming when you won’t be having phone conversations about clothing, but with clothing.