Electronic Product Design

Tuesday, 09 February 2016 00:00 Written by

Are E-Textiles About To Boom?

09-02-16 - wearble watch 200Wearable technologies are increasingly common, though largely take the form of wristbands, watches, and other easy-to-fit, easy-to-access consumer products. A cursory glance at several “top wearables of 2015” style articles shows me most of these products will be found on the user’s wrist, allowing designers to approach wearables as a fashion item.

To continue reaching the masses, wearables must remain relevant, practical, and most of all, actually useful. Electronic product designers are increasingly working alongside clothing designers to create perfect combinations of electronics and textiles to form the next generation of popularised wearable technology.

Growing Market

The existing wearable tech industry has an estimated value of $15 billion, speculated to rise to around $25 billion by 2019. And the current slice of the market for e-textiles? A mere $100 million, a fraction of the overall market, and a true representation of e-textile use and awareness. While most direct focus on the wearable technology markets comes through the “Sports, Fitness, and Well-Being” sector, the transition from wristband to textile has been somewhat slow.

Larger players are needed in the marketplace to speed development and encourage other, smaller or independent developers to develop attractive e-textile garments for both sporting and regular wear. Once global brands such as Adidas, UnderArmour, and Nike entered the e-textile market with various ranges of e-shirts/smart shirts, other competitors – both fashion and electrical – emerged.

We have now seen serious market entries from materials companies such as DuPont, Nagase/EMS, and Hitachi Chemical, while electronics manufacturing giants such as Flex and Jabil are continuing to invest heavily in innovative e-textile processes that will benefit the entire market. Not only that, but the seemingly sleeping Asian and Indian regions have awoken to their huge potential e-textile markets, both at home and abroad.

N.B: I cannot finish this section without mentioning CuteCircuit, one of the original fashionable wearable technology houses, ranging from luminescent dresses through to digital display handbags, and plenty more.

How and Where?

For the e-textile industry to boom, it has to have an idea of where its customers are – and what they need. New technologies coming to the market include e-fibres for the use of RFID, sensors, and more; new materials currently under-development, such as graphene and carbon nanotubes; inclusion of photovoltaic, piezoelectric, and triboelectric elements in garments; some even speculate of the inclusion of logic and memory elements before long.

Dr. Sarah Kettley, smart textile researcher at the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, Nottingham Trent University, believes e-textiles hold great promise for supporting patients with mental health problems. We are looking at another advance in computing; e-textiles will likely form another facet of the Internet of Things, and wearable computing usage is likely to continue rising.

Dr. Kettley’s research has found “that many people with mental health conditions do not use the smart phones and tablets most developers are designing for. An Internet of Things enabled by e-textiles can be designed to respond to a wider range of our senses and different types of touch input, depending on people’s needs”.

It is a tricky situation. Giving our healthcare professionals more accurate readings for a wide range of sensors relating to even non-vital aspects of a person’s health would be outstanding – but does it then remove the individual’s personal power and understanding of their body?

 

Image courtesy of coooldesign / freedigitalphotos.net.

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