News Release

Flexible fiber, coupled to the human body, enables chipless textile electronics

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

A flexible electronic fiber that utilizes the human body as part of the circuit enables textile-based electronics without the need for batteries or chips, researchers report. According to the authors, the approach is well-suited for scalable manufacture of comfortable fiber-based electronics for a wide range of applications, including “smart” clothing. Textile electronic systems are designed to equip textile or fiber assemblies with electronic functions for sensing, computation, display, or communication. They create vast opportunities ranging from physiological monitoring to powering smart-home devices. However, incorporating such electronics into fabrics for clothing presents a challenge because they usually require rigid components like batteries or chips, which limits seamless integration, energy efficiency, functionality, and comfort. Here, Weifeng Yang and colleagues present a soft, thin fiber that enables wireless visual-digital interactions that utilize the human body as part of the circuit. The approach harvests ambient electromagnetic energy. The interactive fiber – or i-fiber – consists of three layers, a core that triggers an electromagnetic field, a dielectric layer that stores human body-coupled electromagnetic energy, and an optical layer that allows visualization of the electric field. Yang et al. show that the fibers retained their capabilities when used in industrial-scale textile manufacturing techniques, including batch weaving, digital sewing, and embroidery machines. The authors also tested the textiles rigorously for durability and comfort, including washability, dyability, stability to moisture and sweat, and breathability. To demonstrate the proof-of-concept, Yang et al. created garments with a textile-based touchpad and display that conveyed information through wireless illuminating patterns without the need for an external power source, as well as a wireless haptic carpet that could sense and visualize the touch area. In a related Perspective, Yunzhu Li and Yiyue Luo discuss the findings and their potential to inspire the development of functional fibers and their application across diverse fields.

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