Engineering 101

Rainproof, Stain-proof Tech Turns Clothes into Self-powered Remotes

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When on the hunt for a new clothing item, we don’t often consider a piece that’s super high-tech, but we may be able to soon. Imagine being about to turn on lights or music, as well as repel bacteria, directly from your shirt.

A new innovation in fabric out of Purdue University allows wearers to control electronic devices directly from their clothes.

The new addition to your wardrobe may soon help you turn on the lights and music – while also keeping you fresh, dry, fashionable, clean and safe from the latest virus that’s going around.

“It is the first time there is a technique capable to transform any existing cloth item or textile into a self-powered e-textile containing sensors, music players or simple illumination displays using simple embroidery without the need for expensive fabrication processes requiring complex steps or expensive equipment,” said Ramses Martinez, an assistant professor in the School of Industrial Engineering and in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering in Purdue’s College of Engineering.

This marks the first time researchers have been able to craft a textile that would be able to protect wearers from rain, stains, and bacteria, all while powering the textile-based electronics from inside their clothes.

“These self-powered e-textiles also constitute an important advancement in the development of wearable machine-human interfaces, which now can be washed many times in a conventional washing machine without apparent degradation,” she added.

Martinez said the Purdue waterproof, breathable and antibacterial self-powered clothing is based on omniphobic triboelectric nanogeneragtors (RF-TENGs) – which use simple embroidery and fluorinated molecules to embed small electronic components and turn a piece of clothing into a mechanism for powering devices. The Purdue team says the RF-TENG technology is like having a wearable remote control that also keeps odors, rain, stains and bacteria away from the user.

Purdue waterproof, breathable and antibacterial self-powered clothing is based on omniphobic triboelectric nanogenerators. (Image Credit: Ramses Martinez/Purdue University)

Even as fashion has evolved, we haven’t seen many examples of clothing that could actually interact with users. This new clothing is a perfect blend into an IoT world, providing an interface that is constantly worn and convenient, seamless communication with machines.

The technology is being patented through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. The researchers are looking for partners to test and commercialize their technology.

Their work aligns with Purdue’s Giant Leaps celebration of the university’s global advancements in artificial intelligence and health as part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary. It is one of the four themes of the yearlong celebration’s Ideas Festival, designed to showcase Purdue as an intellectual center solving real-world issues.

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