Armed with our initial vision of a base garment that could essentially play videos on its surface, let’s explore some of the challenges that need to be addressed before this could become reality.
First of course, is the issue of the actual surface. What we liked about the Corning video is the suggestion that they have a surface which could actually work as a ‘play back’ mechanism, although it is likely that wearing glass could present some challenges.
Fabric is very flexible and has a great deal of give and take, and shifts on the wearer’s body in response to movement. It was remarkable tensile strength and can resist tearing even when subjected to substantial stresses (like those created over a joint when the limb is bent, or stresses created by the deformation of flesh in response to compression). Glass is brittle and while appreciable changes can be made to its underlying chemistry to make it less brittle, it would also need to be able to move over the body like cloth does, which might go beyond current material science capabilities.
So perhaps Corning’s glass product wouldn’t be the best solution for the base textile, but there have been recent innovations with OLEDs (organic semiconductors) which might be suitable. What is needed is a textile (woven or nonwoven) that has the capacity to have electronic wiring incorporated throughout the body of the garment in such a way that it can receive inputs and display those inputs on the outer surface of the textile. The textile needs to be fluid enough to move smoothly over the body and to respond to the natural stresses place on it during the process of being worn, which could include abrasion and tearing stresses.
The textile will also need to be able to be cleaned, or to incorporate some sort of self cleaning mechanism. There are any number of interesting innovations making their way into garments, everything from silver ions to reduce bacterial growth to the introduction of bamboo fiber, which has a natural antimicrobial which reduces the growth of microbes that cause sweat stains in fabric. There are also some interesting additions, which can help textiles shed dirt and stains more easily, as well as new ways of actually creating textiles to reduce their staining capacity.
We have also seen some interesting evolutions in the required electronic circuitry – everything from metallic inks (usually copper or silver-base inks) which can be literally printed from a special ink jet printer to lay down the pre-designed circuitry to very thin copper wire used as a thread in a weave. While both of these solutions still have issues when applied to a garment, they both show merit in moving such a project forward. Some of the issues that will need to be resolved will be the ability to ensure that the circuitry doesn’t break as a result of standard wear caused by stresses in the stress areas of the garment/s (e.g., elbows, knees, seats, backs, and so on).
These solutions will also need to be able to be pass garment testing, and to be able to be cleaned to industry standard testing requirements. For such a product to make it to wide-spread mass market acceptance, of course, the product itself would need to be both affordable, and the maintenance of the garment would also need to be affordable, and preferably accomplished using standard home cleaning products.
Then there’s the comfort question, which we will discuss next time.