E-textiles to control home appliances

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Bengaluru, June 18 (IANS) Too lazy to get up from the bed to switch off your TV or the oven in the kitchen?

A new invention by Chinese researchers has a way out. Just swipe your finger on your wristband made from a new type of electronic textile (e-textile), according to a report in the “ACS Nano” journal published by the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Jiaona Wang, at the School of Materials Science & Engineering in Beijing and co-workers have developed the new type of e-textile that allows a person to control household appliances or computers from a distance simply by touching a wristband or other item of clothing, “something that could be particularly helpful for those with limited mobility”, the report says.

E-textiles are not new, but most existing versions have poor air permeability, can’t be laundered or are too costly or complex to mass-produce, ACS said in a press release. “The self-powered E-textile developed by the researchers overcomes all of these limitations, is washable and highly sensitive to human touch.”

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According to the report, the researchers made a self-powered “triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG)” by depositing an electrode array of conductive carbon nanotubes on nylon fabric. Nanogenerator is a type of technology that converts mechanical energy — as produced by small-scale physical change — into electricity. Fabrics or fibers can be easily woven into textiles to manufacture TENGs for harvesting human mechanical energy

The washable e-textile (WET) is mainly constructed of three layers. The top layer is silk fabric, serving as one frictional material; the bottom layer is nylon fabric, which is regarded as the substrate and the middle layer is the carbon nanotube (CNT) electrode array. To make the E-textile washable, the researchers incorporated polyurethane into the carbon nanotubes which made the nanotubes firmly adhere to the nylon fabric. They covered the array with a piece of silk and fashioned the textile into a wristband.

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“The Washable E-Textile (WET), incorporated into a wristband, can perceive the touch by human fingertips, thus generating a pulse signal,” the report says. When swiped with a finger in different patterns, the e-textile generates electrical signals to wirelessly trigger household objects to turn on lights, a fan or a microwave from across the room.

This kind of e-textile can be manufactured on common fabric at large scales, the researchers say. “Our E-textile exhibits highly sensitive touch/gesture sensing performance and has potential applications for human-machine interfacing.”

According to the report, the application of WET is not limited to smart home control, but can also “be extended to factories, hospitals, and railway stations.

“Considering the advantages of being durable through washing, low cost, available for mass production, and skin-friendly, the WET shows great potential in multifunctional wearable devices and human-machine interface systems,” it says.

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