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Researchers develop garments that conduct Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

The latest in wearable tech is a collection of ‘smart’ clothes designed to enhance connectivity between our devices. How? By turning us into ‘pseudo-human circuit boards.’

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but these days it isn’t often that we’re without our phones or at least some kind of device keeping us perpetually connected. Technology has infiltrated its way into our lives so significantly during the last two decades that over half the global population now has access to the internet.

On this note, I think it’s pretty safe to say we’d be hard-pressed to get by absent of those handy little gadgets in our pockets. They’ve transformed how we communicate, how we’re entertained, how we travel from A to B (I’m barely scratching the surface here) so God forbid we ever drop signal – or worse – battery life.

Well-aware of our innate reliance on uninterrupted 4G, countless industries have jumped at opportunities to ensure they’re satiating this appetite and fashion is one of them.

This, of course, may come as a surprise given that the latest Apple product or self-driving car is most likely what springs to mind regarding these adaptations, but technology touches almost everything we do and its integration with style has been rapidly evolving for some time.

From antiviral fabrics and Augmented Reality t-shirts to 3D printed designs and Instagram-ready outfits you can’t physically touch, fashion’s foray into the digital age isn’t new in the slightest.

What is, however, is its move to guarantee we can stop worrying about losing connection. How? With a collection of ‘smart’ clothes that conduct Bluetooth and Wi-Fi by turning us into ‘pseudo-human circuit boards.’

person holding black smartphone during daytime

Developed by researchers in Singapore, the idea was borne from a need to effectively link wearable devices – the likes of which have recently seen rapid advancements and increasing sophistication of the data they transmit – such as fitness trackers, app-controlled footwear, and AR glasses.

Especially for the lucky few of us who enjoy using more than one at once.

Typically, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi waves radiate outwards in all directions when emitted, sending the majority of their energy into our surroundings. This drastically reduces a gadget’s efficiency because much of its battery life is consumed solely from attempting to establish a connection.

Seeking to rectify this, Assistant Professor John Ho and his team at the NUS Institute for Health Innovation & Technology engineered ‘meta-material,’ a textile that can conduct radio-waves on the surface of our garments.

This creates a ‘wireless body sensor network’ with a signal one thousand times stronger than conventional technologies that won’t escape. Made from stainless steel fibres, it’s in the form of comb shaped strips that are attached by embroidery or fabric adhesive with unpatterned conductors on the inner side.

‘The outer strips act like tracks for surface waves to glide wirelessly around the body, whereas the ones underneath serve an ‘earthing’ function which prevents the signal from being radiated in the direction towards the wearer’s body,’ explains Ho.

The conductive strips can be arranged in any pattern on clothing to suit the needs of the wearer. Business Insider / Jonathan Loh

‘As such, more energy from the signal between devices is localised to the body rather than radiating in all directions, allowing electronics worn in close proximity to these strips to use much less power than usual and be able to detect much weaker signals.’

He adds that the ‘cost-effective’ strips are available in rolls of $7.37 per metre and can be arranged in any pattern on clothes to connect different areas of the body. But that’s not all.

In confining the movement of these waves to just 10cm from our bodies, we’re granted with more privacy compared to conventional methods of transmitting data that leave our sensitive information open to being picked up elsewhere (up to 100m away).

Fear not, however, as according to Ho, this doesn’t pose any health threats to the wearer.

Oh, and if you were wondering (I know I was) whether or not these clothes can be washed, dried, or ironed like normal, the answer is yes, thanks to meta-material’s ‘highly robust’ wireless property that means it can be cut, bended, and torn without any interference to its capabilities.

How soon until I can get my hands on some?


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