What if, in the future, a simple jacket could monitor our health, serve as a smartphone, and guide a hearing-impaired person through public transportation? Although the concept may appear absurd, but it is already becoming a reality. A research team has created an acoustic fabric that serves as a microphone and is modeled on the human auditory system.
Climate change is an urgent issue and the fashion industry is coming up with new textiles that are more environmentally friendly and sustainable. And the future of fashion could be shaped by intelligent fabrics.
Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) have joined forces to create an acoustic fabric that can interact with the wearer. This is quite an achievement considering that most fabrics nowadays are considered sound-dampening materials. Millions of people all across the world might live better lives as a result of this revelation.
A jacket that acts like an ear
By “converting sound first into mechanical vibrations, then into electrical signals, comparable to how human ears hear,” the fabric created by this team of scientists can act as a microphone.
As unbelievable as it may seem, a simple jacket might detect common sounds, like a motor engine, to alert a hearing-impaired person to potential danger. The researchers’ article, which was published in the journal Nature, reveals that there are other applications for this smart fabric as well.
To achieve this breakthrough, the engineers started from the observation that fabrics vibrate in response to audible sounds, but these vibrations are not usually detectable. The objective was therefore to make them perceptible. This was made possible thanks to the development of a “flexible fiber” that could be woven into a fabric and bent with it.
“The fiber is designed from a ‘piezoelectric’ material that produces an electrical signal when bent or mechanically deformed, providing a means for the fabric to convert sound vibrations into electrical signals,” the authors of this research explain.
In addition to being able to capture all types of noises, even the least perceptible, the acoustic fabric can also recognize the direction of the sound and even produce sounds that can be detected by other fabrics.
Communicating through clothing
This fabric in addition to becoming a hearing aid can also monitor the wearer’s vital signs. By sewing the fiber to the inner lining of a shirt, just above the chest, the researchers found that it accurately detected heartbeats, indicating that the clothing could detect a potential issue.
The fabric apart from being used for health purposes, researchers see further possibilities.
“Wearing an acoustic garment, you might talk through it to answer phone calls and communicate with others,” explains Wei Yan, the lead author of the research.
He concludes: “[The fiber] can be integrated with spacecraft skin to listen to (accumulating) space dust, or embedded into buildings to detect cracks or strains. It can even be woven into a smart net to monitor fish in the ocean. The fiber is opening widespread opportunities.”
Read the full article here.