The future belongs to i-textiles-“i” for interactive. These computerized clothes are expected to communicate with other separately wired apparel to form a more efficient network.
The theory is that each fabric should not try to be all things to all people; rather, it should work like a personal computer’s motherboard – a printed circuit board that contains only those things fundamental to the machine’s operation, such as the power supply, the central processing unit and a bit of memory.
The world of fashion and technology now seems to be converging on one man. Sundaresan Jayaraman, an engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Textile and Fiber Engineering, is not a particularly flashy dresser, but he may have hit on just the thing to make high-tech clothing hip.
Five years ago Jayaraman invented a way of making a kind of electronic fabric – a supple mixture of natural fibers and gossamer-thin wires and optical fibers. He’s been tinkering with it ever since, and now it’s almost ready for prime time.
Later this year Sensatex, a new company based in New York, plans to market the SmartShirt, made of Jayaraman’s fabric, for medical applications, like monitoring a body’s vital signs. Jayaraman hopes it will quickly make its way into the consumer realm. A bevy of inventors, inspired by Jayaraman’s experimental fabric, have sprung up in recent years and followed his vision: Less technology means more efficiency.
Jayaraman’s fabric can be a kind of wearable motherboard. An i-textile does absolutely nothing until various electrical doodads are clipped on. You might put a microphone on your lapel and a tape recorder in your pocket, attach headphones and an MP3 player to your hat, or clip a blood-pressure monitor to your chest. Electrical and optical signals operate the devices by zipping through the fabric. The possibilities are limited only by the amount of memory and the weight of the gadgets hanging from your sleeves.