Materials and Applications of Smart and Interactive Textiles

Last Updated on 06/12/2021

Materials and Applications of Smart and Interactive Textiles

Saddamhusen Jamadar
D.K.T.E’s Textile and Engineering Institute, Ichalkaranji, India


Smart and interactive textiles are fibrous structures that are capable of sensing, actuating, generating/storing power and/or communicating. Research and development towards wearable textile-based personal systems allowing e.g. health monitoring, protection and safety, and healthy lifestyle gained strong interest during the last 10 years.

Smart fabrics and interactive textiles wearable systems regroup activities along two different and complementary approaches i.e. “application pull”  and  “technology push”. This includes personal health management through integration, validation, and use of smart clothing and other networked mobile devices as well as projects targeting the full integration of sensors/actuators, energy sources, processing and communication within the clothes to enable personal applications such as protection/safety, emergency and healthcare. So here in case of smart textiles we are using the conductive fibers such as metal yarn. This paper includes the origin and introduction of smart textile and integrated wearable electronics for sport wear, industrial purpose, automotive and entertainment applications, healthcare and safety, military, public sectors, and new developments in smart textiles.

The paper wishes to focus on smart and interactive textiles, therefore the whole paper is dedicated to this. Definitions, working conditions, purpose and applications in various fields of interactive textile are included here. As well as the future of smart and interactive textile also given in brief.

The paper wishes to give a good overview of the smart and interactive textiles. And also gives idea about future textile with human.

The original function of textiles was to shield man from cold and rain. Later on in history aesthetic aspects also came to play a role in clothing. Much more recently a new generation of textiles has arisen; smart and interactive textiles. Interactive textiles are a relatively new discipline in the textile sector. They are active materials that have sensing and actuation properties. Their potential is enormous. One could think of smart clothing that makes us feel comfortable at all times, during any activity and in any environmental conditions, a suit that protects and monitors, that warns in case of danger and even helps to treat diseases and injuries. Such clothing could be used from the moment we are born till the end of our life. Some of the more important efforts include applications that Aid in patient health monitoring through sensor embedded garments that track and record biometric data, Helps to improve athletic performance both by analyzing sensor data and adapting to changing conditions. So as to improve performance over the time. Provides environmental sensing and communication technologies for military defense and other security personals. Present new structural and decorative solutions for fashion design. Some them were described further in this paper.

The smart textile can sense and react to environmental conditions or stimuli from mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical, magnetic or other sources. Three components must be present in smart textiles. i.e. sensors, actuators and controlling units. The sensor provides nerve system to detect signals some of materials acts as only sensors. And some acts as both the sensors and actuators. Smart textiles are combination of textile and electronics. Modified textile material and miniaturized electronic devices create smart cloths. These cloths are like ordinary cloth providing special function in various situations according to the design and application.

Smart Material and Its Classification:
“Smart material” is a generic term for a material that in some way reacts to its environment. Smart materials can be classified in many different ways, for example depending on their transforming function: property change capability, energy change capability, discrete size/location or reversibility. Smart materials can also be classified depending on their behavior and function as passive smart, active smart or very smart. Another way of classifying them is to look at the role they could have in a smart structure, as sensors or actuators. According to the manner of reaction, they can be divided into passive smart, active smart and very smart materials:

  1. Passive smart materials can only sense the environmental conditions or stimuli; they are sensors
  2. Active smart materials will sense and react to the condition or stimuli, besides the sensor function, they also have actuation characteristics.
  3. Very smart materials can sense, react and adapt themselves accordingly;
  4. An even higher level of intelligence can be achieved from those intelligent materials and structures capable of responding or activated to perform a function in a manual or pre-programmed manner.

Concepts for 5 interactive textile samples have been developed. The concepts are based on the following sensors: pressure sensors, sound sensors, strain sensors and light sensors; and actuator: shape memory alloys, light emitting diodes, electroluminescent materials, photovoltaic cells, optical fibers, thermo chromatic and photo chromatic inks. It should be mentioned that some materials are both sensors and actuators, such as thermo and photo chromatic inks. More concepts including other sensors and actuators could be developed to be included in the future.

The materials of our surroundings are being “intellectualized”. Whereas, in the past, we needed several components to satisfy a certain function, technology today has allowed us to satisfy the same function with fewer components. “The new generation of objects, rather than being solidly located in space, tend to flow through time.” These materials can interact, communicate and sense. Miniaturization not only means the production of smaller components, but the elimination of components. Mechanisms, that previously had to be manufactured by different materials and as separate objects, can now be made of one single material. Examples of this reduction of components and matter are; a complex sensor system replaced by a piezoelectric film and the mechanical keyboard replaced by the membrane.

Here we are using conductive metallic yarns like silver, stainless steel, carbon fiber, textile yarns with electrical properties. Yarns containing conductive fibers like stainless steel mix with natural synthetic fibers. Polymeric or carbon coated threads Conductive yarn, conductive rubber, and conductive ink have been developed into sensors or used as an interconnection substrate. Conductive yarns and fibers are made by mixing pure metallic or natural fibers with conductive materials. Pure metallic yarns can be made of composite stainless steel or fine continuous conductive metal-alloy Combination of fibers with conductive materials can be completed by the following methods:

  1. Fibers filled with conductive material (e.g., carbon or metallic particles);
  2. Fibers coated with conductive polymers or metal; and
  3. Fibers spun with thin metallic or plastic conductive threads.

Metallic silk, organza, stainless steel filament, metal clad aramid fiber, conductive polymer fiber, conductive polymer coating and special carbon fiber have been applied to the manufacture of fabric sensors.

Materials such as metallic, optical fibers and conductive polymers may be integrated into the textile structure, thus supplying electrical conductivity, sensing capabilities and data transmission. Organic polymers may provide a solution to overcome the stiffness of inorganic crystals such as silicon. These materials are light, elastic, resilient, mechanically flexible, inexpensive and easy to process.

Metal Fibers
Metal threads are made up of metallic fibers which are very thin metal filaments(diameters ranging from 1 to 80 micron). The fibers are produced either through a bundle-drawing process or else shaved off the edge of thin metal sheeting. Metallic threads and yarns may be knitted or woven into a textile and used to form Interconnects between components. They may also be used as electrodes for monitoring electrical physiological activity such as electrocardiogram (ECG) signals. While metals provide good conductivity there are some drawbacks of integration into clothing. Metal threads tend to be heavier than most textile fibers and their brittle characteristics can damage spinning machinery over time and also they may be uncomfortable to wear due to abrasion.

Metal yarns
Figure 1: Metal yarns

Conductive Inks
A layout can be screen-printed using conductive inks to add conductivity to specific areas of a garment. Carbon, copper, silver, nickel and gold may be added to conventional printing inks to make them conductive. Printed areas can be subsequently used as switches or pressure pads for the activation of circuits.

Conductive ink
Figure 2: Conductive ink

Inherently Conductive Polymers
Inherently conductive polymers have both sensing and actuation properties. The electrical conductivity of these polymers is known to be caused by their conjugated double bond chain structure. Some commonly had known ICPs include polyacetylene, polypyrrole, polyaniline, and polythiophene. Polypyrrole (PPy) is most suitable as It has high mechanical strength with high elasticity, is relatively stable in air and electro active in both organic and aqueous solutions. Polypyrrole has be used in the development of organic piezo-resistive sensors by depositing thin layers of PPy, by anin situchemical polymerization process, onto fabrics with high elasticity such as nylon lycra® or high compressibility such as polyurethane foam. Conductivity changes results from external deformation of the material. The major advantage of this approach is that the sensors retain the natural texture of the material. How ever the problem with these devices is a variation in resistance over time, and a high response time.

Conjugate structure of ICP
Figure 3: Conjugate structure of ICP

Optical Fibers
Plastic optical fibers may be easily integrated into a textile. They have the advantage of not generating heat and are insensitive to EM radiation. Optical fibers may serve a number of functions in a smart garment – transmit data signals, transmit light for optical sensing, detect deformations in fabrics due to stress and strain and perform chemical sensing. Plastic optical fibers can be woven into a textile, however bending of the fibers is an issue during the manufacturing process and also with the end product as mechanical damage causes signal loss. Commercially available Luminex ®fabric is a textile with woven optical fibers capable of emitting its own light. While this has aesthetic appeal for the fashion industry it is also used in safety vests and potential to be used for data transmission.

optical fibers
Figure 4: Optical fibers

Coating with Nano-Particles
Coating a fabric with nano particles is being widely applied within the textile industry to improve the performance and functionality of textiles. Conventional methods of adding various properties to fabrics may not last after washing and wearing. How ever nanotechnology can add permanent effects and provide high durability fabrics. This is due to the large surface area-to-volume ratio and high surface energy of nano particles. Coating with Nano-particles can enhance the textiles with properties such as anti-bacterial, water-repellence, UV-protection and self-cleaning, while still maintaining breath-ability and tactile properties of the textile. Nano-Tex has a range of products using such coatings to resist spills, repel and release stains, and resiststatic. These textile enhancements become inherent to the fabric, improving the performance and durability of everyday apparel and interior furnishings.

Organic Semiconductors
Organic semiconductors, (polymers and oligomers), having the electrical properties of semiconductors and the mechanical properties of plastics, are good candidates for developing electronic and optoelectronic flexible components, e.g. transistors, LEDs, on the flexible textile substrate. Organic LEDs consist of multilayer structures where organic emitters are embedded between an evaporated metal electrode and a film of indium tin oxide coupled to a plastic or glass substrate. Philips have recently released light emitting fabric, Lumalive®, featuring flexible arrays of fully integrated colored LEDs. These light-emitting textiles can carry dynamic messages, graphics, or multicolored surfaces.

Shape Memory Materials
SMMs can deform from the current shape to a previously set shape, usually due to the action of heat. a strip of metal is heated with a lighter and finds its original shape. In garments the scale is smaller. When these SSMs are activated (at a certain activation temperature), the air gaps between close layers of clothing are increased. This is to give better insulation and protection against extremes of heat or cold. In clothing, the temperatures for the shape memory effect to be activated should be near body temperature.

SM Polymers are more flexible than the alloys. Thermoplastic polyurethane films have been made which can be put in between layers of clothing. When the temperature of the outer layer of clothing has fallen sufficiently, the film responds so that the air gap between the layers of clothing becomes broader. This out-of-plane deformation must be strong enough to resist the weight of the clothing and the movements of the wearer. If the outer layer of clothing becomes warmer, the deformation must be reversed. Some alloys are capable of a two-way activation, triggered by changeable weather and varying physical activity.

Typical transformation versus temperature curve
Figure 5: Typical transformation versus temperature curve

Chromic Materials
Chromic Materials are also called chameleon fibers, because they can change their color according to external conditions. These materials have mostly used in fashion, to create funny color changing designs. Because of this, some people fear that the chromic materials will be a short boom. But the accuracy and endurance of the materials are all the time being improved.

Types of Sensors:

1. Blood Pressure Measuring Sensors:
Pressure sensors include all sensors, transducers, and elements that produce an electrical signal proportional to pressure or changes in pressures. Pressure sensors are devices that read changes in pressure and relay this data to recorders or switches.

2. Body Temperature Measuring Sensors:
Thermistor are thermally sensitive devices whose electrical resistant varies with temperature. Unlike thermocouples, thermistors do not have standards associated with their resistance verses temperature.

There are two types of thermistors:

  1. Positive temperature coefficient (PTC)
  2. Negative temperature coefficient (NTC)

In PTC thermistor, electrical resistance increases as temperature increases. While in case of NTC thermistor, electrical resistance drops as temperature increases. Thermistors are more accurate than some other types of temperature sensors.

3. Pulse Rate Measuring Sensors:
The easiest way to measure heart rate is using the heart rate sensors. Heart rate sensor monitors the light level transmitted through vascular tissues of the fingertip and the corresponding variations in light intensities that occurs as the blood volume change in the tissue. The ease of use makes it possible to measure everyone’s heart rate, even in larger classes. The heart rate sensors measuring heart rate between 0 and 200 bpm (beatsper minutes)

Unlike an electrocardiograph (ECG) which monitors the electrical signal of the heart, the heart rate by monitoring the changes in infrared transmittance through blood vessels, the amount of blood changes with time and the corresponding variation in light intensities changes. By this the heart rate can be determined.

Networking and Communication
In this where data acquisition from many sensors is involved. Issues such as addressing of the individual sensors, the layout of the data paths within the fabric. The placement of the processing units and the routine strategies all play a significant role in the design of the fabric. In terms of its power consumption.

layout of the data paths within the fabric

This might be one of most difficult areas dealt with in the electronics industry and interconnection involves either connecting two wires or connecting an electronic component to a wire. The common method that is used for both these interconnections is soldering. Components can also be connected to the wires using insulation. Displacement connecters and spot welding on the other hand stitching interconnects two pieces of fabric. When two pieces of E-textiles have to be interconnected both these issues have to be considered simultaneously. Thus there is need to develop interconnection between electronic components and textile.

Power Supply:
The power supply is the biggest problem. Power supply technologies typically batteries provide the electrical power for activating components in an electronic textile. In recent years, batteries have not only become smaller and more powerful water resistant and lower cost. One type is fabricated by screen printing silver oxide based paste on a substrate to yield battery only 120 microns thick, solar energy and energy created by the human body are also being studied as sources of electrical power for electronic components. Two of the most known approaches to develop new power supply technologies, are lithium polymer battery and micro fuel cells. Sunlight, body temperature and body motion are alternative energy sources on the body that can be transformed into electrical energy. Also in this case, one should differ between flexible and textile, because there are more efforts to mount flexible energy supplies onto textiles than inventing pure textile power supply.

Thin film solar cells can be made on flexible surface technology has also been adapted to fiber form. The efficiency of these alternative energy sources needs to be improved.

Applications of Smart and Interactive Textiles in Various Fields

1. Health Care
The development of wearable monitoring systems is already having an effect on healthcare in the form of “Telemedicine”. “The integration of high-technology into textiles, e.g. modern communication or monitoring systems or the development of new materials with new functions, has just started with timidity, but the branch already propagates an enormous boom for this sector Personalized Health care The concept of personalized healthcare empowers the individual with the management and assessment of their own healthcare needs. Wearable devices allow physiological signals to be continuously monitored during normal daily activities. This can overcome the problem of infrequent clinical visits that can only provide a brief window into the physiological status of the patient. Smart clothing serves an important role in remote monitoring of chronically ill patients or those under going rehabilitation. It also promotes the concept of preventative healthcare. Given the current world demographics there is a need to shift the focus of healthcare delivery from treatment to prevention and also to promote wellness monitoring rather than diagnosis of illness.

SFIT for personal health monitoring, “so called” intelligent biomedical clothing was initiated in the early.

It is one of the most important applications for SFIT wearable systems. The first promising results (prototypes) have been achieved by few research teams in Europe and USA, following the “application pull” approach. These prototypes incorporate mainly electrocardiogram and respiration monitoring (and accessorily other physiological and physical parameters depending on the targeted applications) by implementing strain fabric sensors and fabric electrodes. Representative examples are e.g.:

  • Wireless-enabled garment with embedded textile sensors for simultaneous acquisition and continuous
  • Monitoring of ECG, respiration, EMG, and physical activity. The “smart cloth” embeds a strain fabric sensor based on piezo resistive yarns and fabric electrodes realized with metal based yarns.
  • Sensitized vest including fully woven textile sensors for ECG and respiratory frequency detection and a
  • Portable electronic board for motion assessment, signal pre-processing, and Bluetooth connection for data Transmission.
  • Wearable sensitized garment that measures human heart rhythm and respiration using a three lead ECG shirt. The conductive fiber grid and sensors are fully integrated (knitted) in the garment (Smart Shirt).
smart shirt for measuring rehabilitation
Figure 6: Smart shirt for measuring rehabilitation

Life Belt:
Life belt is a trans-abdominal wearable device for long-term health monitoring that facilitates the parental monitoring procedures for both the mother and the fetus. Hospitals and obstetric clinics, on the other hand, might avoid the frequent visit of additional patients (most of them hypochondriacs), so the remote health monitoring provided by this.

“Life belt” will contribute to a significant reduction of the hospitals’ load. The hospitals’ efficiency in that way can be increased as well as the quality of the provided services. “life belt” is also a valuable decision support tool for the obstetrician, who is enabled to monitor patients remotely, evaluate automated preliminary diagnosis of their condition based on collected and analyzed vital signs, access patients’ medical data at any time and most importantly be alerted when potential pregnancy complications require physical examination of the patient. Furthermore, the obstetricians are able to use mobile units and portable devices to organize their work and increase their work efficiency and effectiveness. So this life belt is very useful in case of pregnant women. Pregnant women living in remote areas work during pregnancy and face certain health problems (e.g. high blood pressure, kinetic problems requiring immobilization, kidney or heart diseases, multiple pregnancy). Usually they feel uncomfortable with frequent visits for prenatal monitoring. The inaccessibility of the fetus, the sensitivity of fetal and maternal health status and susceptibility to psychological conditions pose significant difficulties in monitoring the progress of the pregnancy effectively. Furthermore, bulky or invasive equipment and long examinations in clinical settings affect both the mother and the fetus causing additional stress which influences their health. The use of a wearable platform able to monitor non-invasively fetal and maternal vital signs could improve significantly their living conditions.

Life Jacket:
Life jacket is a medical device worn by the patient that consequently reads their blood pressure or monitors the heart rate; the information is transferred to a computer and read by medical staff. A specialized camera in the form of headwear has been developed to be worn by paramedics. Visual information captured by the camera can be transferred directly to medical staff at the hospital enabling them to advise instantly on appropriate treatment.

Hypertension is another common disease found in the elderly population. Elevated BP increases the workload of the heart and scars the artery walls. Increases in either BP or BP variability (BPV) are partly responsible for various cardiovascular events. Nevertheless, most individuals with hypertension experience no symptoms, which often make them overlook their ailment. Thus, early detection of BP for health condition assessment by wearable devices before a severe event occurs is very important.

smart life jacket
Figure 7: Life jacket

Wearable BP monitoring focuses on continuous and noninvasive measurement without using a cuff. Cuff-less BP can be measured from the radial pulse waveform by arterial tonometry by using this life jacket.

Table: E-textile sensors in health monitoring

Devices implementation Sensing components Signals Applications
Woven or knitted conductive yarn / rubber/ ink electrodes Fabric sensors Electrocardiogram Cardiopulmonary
Woven or knitted conductive yarn / rubber electrodes Fabric sensors Electromyography Neural rehabilitation
Woven or knitted conductive yarn / rubber electrodes Impedance pneumographic sensors Respiration Cardiopulmonary
Textile fibers or small-sized strips based on conductive yarn Inductive plethysmograhic sensors Respiration Cardiopulmonary
Textile fibers or small-sized strips based on conductive yarn/ carbon filled rubber / electro active polymer Piezoresistive sensors Respiration Cardiopulmonary
EAP based textile fibers or small-sized strips Piezoresistive sensors Movement and posture Neural rehabilitation
EAP based textile fibers or small-sized strips Piezoelectric sensors Carotid pulse, radial artery pulse, heart apex pulse, and sound Cardiopulmonary
Optical fibers Optical fibers Pulse oxygen Cardiopulmonary
EAP based textile fibers or small-sized strips Thermoelectric sensors Skin tempreture Neural rehabilitation
Woven or knitted conductive yarn / rubber / and optical fibers Fabric sensors Cuffless blood pressure Cardiopulmonary

One consideration is that attaching sensors to the body can cause skin problems. “An alternate solution is textile-structured electrodes, which are ECG sensors embedded inside garments, such as fiber, yarn, and fabric structures. These textile-structure electrodes, possibly woven into clothes, are more comfortable and suitable for long-term monitoring. “It’s possible to acquire a host of signals: electrocardiogram, electromyogram, respiration signal, skin conductivity, index of movement. To this purpose, fabric piezo resistive sensors, fabric electrodes and textile connections are integrated and knitted in one step process given rise to comfortable sensing garments.”

Two EU-funded projects, WEALTHY and MyHeart, involve a wearable textile interface integrating sensors, electrodes and connections realized with conductive and piezoelectric yarns for monitoring vital signs. New products coming onto the market for similar applications include the Smart shirt by Sensatex™ and the Life Shirt® system by Vivometrics®, offering continuous ambulatory monitoring systems for the healthcare sector.

2. Military/Defense
In extreme environmental conditions and hazardous situations there is a need for real time information technology to increase the protection and survivability of the people working in those conditions. Improvements in performance and additional capabilities would be of immense assistance within professions such as the defense forces and emergency response services. The requirements for such situations are to monitor vital signs and ease injuries while also monitoring environment hazards such as toxic gases. Wireless communication to a central unit allows medics to conduct remote triage of casualties to help them respond more rapidly and safely.

Smart textile for military
Figure 8: Smart textile for military

3. Fashion and Entertainment
Club wear that reacts to movement, heat and light. They include garments with panels that illuminate when the dancer moves, or clothing that contain fiber optics woven and integrated into the fabric.

Smart fabrics for entertainment and fashion
Figure 9: Smart fabrics for entertainment and fashion

The development of high-tech advanced textiles for initial high-value applications such as extreme sports will eventually find its way into street fashion, with designers employing their creativity to use these emerging materials in new ways. We are becoming increasingly reliant on technology carrying MP3 players, laptops, mobile phones and digital cameras. These devices all contain common components such as power supply, microprocessor, data transmission. As the technology is becoming more flexible these could ultimately be integrated into a common textile substrate – our clothes, becoming truly portable devices. Already there are textile switches integrated into clothing for the control of such devices. While technology may be hidden through invisible coatings and advanced fibers, it can also be used to dramatically change the appearance of the textile, giving new and dazzling effects. Light emitting textiles are finding their way onto the haute couture catwalks, suggesting a future trend in technical garments. The haute couture catwalks, suggesting a future trend in technical garments.

4. Sportswear
Sports enthusiasts are able to benefit from integrated fabric sensors and display panels. They monitor heart rate and blood pressure during a gym workout or morning run and are able to analyze the information giving feedback on performance along with playing mood/ performance enhancing music.

Some sports clothing such as car and motorbike racing and also astronauts suits contain integrated electronics components.

5. Purpose Clothing

  • Global Positioning Systems (GPS) incorporated into walking shoes which allow the user to be tracked by mountain rescues services. In Ski jackets to help locate the wearer in the event of an avalanche.
  • They can also used to monitor the where about of young children.
  • Gloves that contain heaters, or built in LED’s emitting light so that a cyclist can be seen in the dark.

6. Transport and Automotive Use

  • Modern contemporary cars contain control panels that activate heated seats, air-bags.
  • Transport and automotive industries is one of the largest that benefits from interactive electronic and technical textiles. They have uses in space shuttles, aircraft and racing cars.

Future Developments
Further developments in interactive and wearable electronics include garments and clothing that contain Lumalive textiles that are able to transmit messages/advertisements. They have the ability to change color, and contain LED’s incorporated within the clothing. Phillips the electronics company behind these latest innovations is planning to develop fabrics with Lumalive technology that will allow soft furnishings such as cushions, curtains etc. to transform/ alter color and illuminate consecutively enhancing mood and atmosphere of their surroundings.

To take the next step towards electronic clothing (made of electronic textiles) research has to be carried out in the following areas:

Clothing technology for manufacturing testing under wearing conditions and washing/cleaning treatments investigation of reliability. We have seen that electronics can not only be attached to textiles but also realized in form of textile structures. Today, some performances cannot be compared with conventional computer technology. There are also some limitations concerning mass production and reliability. In the future it could become quite difficult to clearly separate electronic textiles from the aforementioned method of miniaturization plus attachment, because computers could be miniaturized until they are molecule-sized. In this case ‘attachment’ to fibers or fabrics would also lead to what we define as electronic textiles.

Plastic was a revolution, and nano-technology will probably be the next big change. There are a lot of thoughts about what could be done if we were able to manipulate, rearrange and build from molecules and atoms. Having a machine that changes a bicycle tire into meat, self-cleaning carpets, changing state from rigid to flexible and visa versa.


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