Scientists turn A4 paper into tablet computing

Once upon a time Global Hypercolour stood alone at the forefront of t-shirt technology.

But now scientists are working towards the ability to change the fabric in clothing into working electronics devices, with an experimental conductive nanocoating that can be applied to less traditional materials.

According to North Caroline State University, the fun need not stop there – with plugging a USB stick into a piece of paper, transforming it into a tablet, also cited as another potential use.

Essentially the team is working on a functioning conductive nanocoating that can be applied to simple textiles such as woven cotton or a sheet of plain old A4 paper and transform it into something rather more interesting.

Dr Jesse Jur at NCSU is using a technique called atomic layer deposition, which is typically used in solar cells and microelectronics, to grow inorganic materials on top of the textiles, including woven cotton and nonwoven polypropylene – used to make plastic bags.

Using a new technique, the research team was able to accurately detect conductivity and give the scientists a better understanding of how to apply the coatings to transform into a conductive device.

According to Jur, the research could offer benefits to health monitoring applications by creating a uniform that can track heart rate, body temperature, movement and more in real time.

To use textiles in such a manner now would involve running a load of wires through the material, which is fine if you are going for the home-made cyborg look, but would certainly draw some attention on London’s transport network.

Of course, whether you would look any less questionable trying to shove a USB stick into your outer-garments is another question.

According to Dr. Jesse Jur, assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science, and lead author on a paper describing the research, the technology could soon be within our grasp.

“We’re closer than you might think,” he told TechEye. “When our team got started on this work, we were faced with issues such as accurately measuring the transport of electricity in nanocoatings we applied to textiles.

“Textiles are flexible and compressive 3D structures that are not like the planar substrates and materials with which electronic devices are typically fabricated.

“Now that we have shown a systematic way to do this measurement on textiles, we can apply this knowledge to advance the bridge between an idea concept and real application,” he explained.

Jur is confident that scaling up to commercial levels should not prove too much of a problem, offering cost benefits.

“For many technologies coming from a laboratory, two major hurdles to commercialisation are materials cost and scale-up,” he says. “We are conscience of these challenges and other research in our lab has made considerable advances in reducing cost and creating ways to scale this technology.

“Integrating the device directly into the structure of the textile can reduce the cost and provide an easier implementation of some technologies.

“For example, personal health monitoring and environmental monitoring are particularly attractive applications.”