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These E-Textiles Provide a User Interface While Keeping Bacteria at Bay

Wearable tech has only recently started gaining traction, and it usually still comes in the form of dedicated devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers. Those are certainly convenient, but they do force you to wear something you otherwise wouldn’t. In a perfect world, you’d be able to interact with the technology around you using what you’re already wearing. That’s why a team of Purdue University researchers have developed self-powered electronic textiles — and they even help fight bacteria.

The waterproof, breathable and antibacterial self-powered clothing is based on omniphobic triboelectric nanogenerators. (📷: Ramses Martinez / Purdue)

These electronic textiles feel like normal fabric and can be used to form just about any kind of clothing you’d want to wear. Various electronic components can be stitched into the fabric to provide useful functions. A basic example is a button that you can use to control your smartphone. But far more complex user interface elements are possible, and even sensors or illumination displays can be integrated. Imagine having a shirt that you could use like a keyboard, or pants that count your steps.

Those functions still require power, and these textiles can harvest that from the user’s movement using omniphobic triboelectric nanogeneragtors (RF-TENGs). Those tiny generators gather electricity as the wearer moves and the fabric rubs against them. As bonus side effect, the “omniphobic” nature of the generators repels just about everything — including bacteria. That means you might soon be able to purchase a shirt that you can use to interact with your smart devices and that also stays smelling fresh and clean.

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Author: Cameron Coward

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