‘Intelligent’ textiles on the anvil

Moenchengladbach, Feb 9:

A keyboard up the sleeve, a computer in the jacket pocket and a tiny screen inside a set of spectacles — this is no longer just the stuff of science fiction books as textiles become ‘intelligent’, offering exciting possibilities in the fields of medicine and sports.

Professor Alexander Buesgen of the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences is developing these ‘intelligent’ clothes with his team in this German city — northwest of the Football World Cup city of Cologne.

A pair of light grey stockings, which Buesgen calls ‘the socks’, offers a highlight — the battery-powered electronics maintain a constant temperature and can protect diabetics from hypothermia. They can help diabetics who suffer from distorted temperature senses. The possibilities are almost boundless. Electronic sensors in the material of an undershirt, for example, can transmit the skin’s surface tension to a pocket computer and provide comfortable long-term ECG readings.

“We still have to develop a shirt which fits snugly to the body over long periods of time,” Buesgen explains. Unlike current methods using sensors and pads taped to the skin, this way a patient’s heartbeats can be monitored — for weeks or months at a time, “Anyone who has suffered a heart attack would love to be able to see warning signals of a possible second one well ahead of time.”

The days of looms producing material by the metre are long gone. Nowadays, machines are making customized seat-covers for motorcycles in four and a half minutes — out of carbon fibres. “Our 3-D technology brings the fabric into the correct form right away,” said a scientist. He shows a square piece of rigid cloth, from which a semicircle bulges out of the middle. Using resin, a protection helmet is created similar to those on construction sites.