Clothes that make the man modern
Prof Werner Blau, who is based at Trinity College’s Department of Physics, has worked with Carroll in the past and agrees with his colleague.
“Some of the those designs are interesting ideas though,” he says, before adding that the majority of innovation within the wearable technology space over the next few years will take place in the US, due in no small part to the concerns of the US military.
“I’m not sure a project [such as Carroll’s] would get funding here in Ireland but I think in America it’s strongly driven by the military. Soldiers are fed up with carrying around lots of battery packs, so if the clothes could provide power that would be fantastic.”
Carroll and Lin agree with the point, with the latter saying that research into “biometric and kinetic energy production” by soldiers’ clothing has been a recurring topic in his university for nearly 20 years.
For the moment at least, Carroll says he’s concentrating on the commercial market rather than creating army wear, and excitedly tells how Power Felt can already be used in the lining of an iPhone case to add 10 to 15 per cent more battery power.
“What youre going to see in the next few years is clothing becoming the electronic gizmo itself and those gizmos will become networked,” he says.
He cites the idea of clothes eventually using nano-composites such as those in Power Felt to monitor respiration, heart-rate and oxygenation of a patient’s blood, while in hospital, a concept which can be enlarged to become a web of “interconnected networks” of “smart clothes” which allow researchers to understand a population’s response to the introduction of a flu epidemic for example.
Indeed, should an infection make its way through a hospital, Carroll says smart
clothing could then “not only monitor this, it can also talk to other clothing so that it can figure out where the malicious organism is going within the hospital and figure out who’s transmitting it. Clothing then literally becomes the nodes of a computational device.”
After that, police officers, firefighters, fishermen, mountaineers and even military personnel, could also benefit from clothing that can cheaply transmit location, health status, temperature and other statistics while not using intrusive sensors he adds.
Carroll even says these types of smart fabrics could be used to replace materials in cars or airplanes to run radios or air conditioning via the heat and motion generated by passengers simply sitting in their seats, not to mention being used in the lining of a roof to power household appliances.
“If it’s used as part of building a house, you could run a refrigerator off of it. It’s the ‘why not?’ factor, in all those instances you’re using fabric anyway so why not use this.”