Researchers Develop Programmable Digital Fibre

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

By Just Style

This article was published in Just Style June 18, 2021. We're sharing because it announces what could be a major milestone in the sewn products industry: fibers with digital capabilities. Yoel Fink, an MIT professor leading research into this technology, said: "digital fibers expand the possibilities for fabrics to uncover the context of hidden patterns in the human body."

Digital fibres could enable fabrics to be used for physical performance monitoring, medical inference and early disease detection.

An experiment conducted by researchers at MIT has demonstrated what is thought to be the first fibre with digital capabilities, able to sense, store, analyse, and infer activity after being sewn into a shirt.

The study was led by Yoel Fink, a professor in the departments of materials science and engineering and electrical engineering and computer science, and a Research Laboratory of Electronics principal investigator.

He says digital fibres expand the possibilities for fabrics to uncover the context of hidden patterns in the human body. They could be used for health monitoring by collecting data on the body to recognise early signs of disease, such as an irregular heartbeat or respiratory decline.

Until now, electronic fibres have been analog carrying a continuous electrical signal rather than digital, where discrete bits of information can be encoded and processed.

The new MIT work “presents the first realisation of a fabric with the ability to store and process data digitally, adding a new information content dimension to textiles and allowing fabrics to be programmed literally,” Fink says.

“This involved placing hundreds of silicon digital chips into a casting preform, to incorporate it into a polymer fibre. By carefully controlling this process, the team was able to create a fibre measuring tens of meters long, with hundreds of interspersed digital chips throughout and a continuous electrical connection.”

The fibre is thin enough to be passed through the eye of a regular needle and can be discreetly sewn into fabrics. It even survives at least 10 washing cycles without breaking down.

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