Tag Archives: fabrics

Nano tech could store power in cables, clothes

Professor Jayan Thomas and Ph.D. student Zenan Yu have developed an innovative method of transmitting and storing electricity in a single lightweight copper wire.

According to UCF Today (University of Central Florida), the technology could ultimately allow individuals to power their MP3 players, smartphones and tablets using the fabric of their jackets. 

Indeed, by being able to store and conduct energy on the same wire, heavy, space-consuming batteries may very well become an outdated remnant of the past.

“It’s an interesting idea. When we did it and started talking about it, everyone we talked to said, ‘Hmm, never thought of that. It’s unique,'” said Thomas. 

”We take it step by step. I love getting to the lab everyday, and seeing what we can come up with next. Sometimes things don’t work out, but even those failures teach us a lot of things.”

As Thomas notes, while copper wire may be the starting point, special fibers could eventually be developed with nanostructures to conduct and store energy.

The current model involves a single copper wire equipped with a sheath of nanowhiskers grown on the outer surface of the copper wire. 

The whiskers were subsequently treated with a special alloy, which created an electrode.

However, two electrodes were required to handle the energy storage, so the researchers created another by wrapping a thin plastic sheet around the whiskers using a metal sheath (after generating additional nanowhiskers). 

The layers were then glued together with a special gel. Because of the insulation, the inner copper wire retains its ability to channel energy, with the layers around the wire independently storing powerful energy.

Simply put, Thomas and his team managed to create an effective supercapacitor on the outside of the copper wire.

Although more research is required, the technique has the potential to be adapted for a wide range of applications. For example, flexible solar cells paired with the above-mentioned fibers could be used to design a jacket capable of powering various electronic devices.

Sew Electric with LilyPad Arduino

The Arduino LillyPad – designed by Leah Buechley and SparkFun Electronics – is powered by an Atmel ATmega168 microcontroller or ATmega328V MCU. The board is primarily targeted at wearables and e-textiles, as it can be easily sewn onto various fabrics.

Buechley, along with Kanjun Qiu and Sonja de Boer, recently published a book about the popular LilyPad titled “Sew Electric.” Featured projects include a sparkling bracelet, a singing monster, a light-up bookmark and a fabric piano. Perhaps most importantly, the book introduces readers to the fundamentals of electronics and programming as well as craft and design practices.

“We want the book to get people excited about electronics and programming. We hope it will help people play, tinker, hack and learn,” Buechley told the official Arduino blog in an interview published earlier this week. 

”There are very few engineering resources that are appealing to young women and girls. We wanted to create an electronics introduction that looks and feels different from anything else that’s out there.”

According to Buechley, the Atmel-powered LilyPad has been used in haute couture fashion, sculpture, dog shows, dance costumes and even fabric robots.

“It’s also been fascinating to research and begin to understand who is using LilyPad. A study I did in 2010 found that while only about 2% of people who build Arduino projects are women, about 65% of LilyPad builders are female. [This is] a spectacular discrepancy,” said Buechley. “I think this shows that the Arduino community can benefit tremendously from tools that connect to different materials, communities and creative traditions.”

The LilyPad creator also noted that wearables and e-textiles offer many admirable qualities, giving new expressive tools to fashion designers, industrial designers and artists.

“They embody appealing juxtapositions–of male and female, soft and hard, new and old,” she explained. “And they’re fantastic vehicles for technological fantasies–bringing to mind the magic cloaks and carpets from fairy tales, the flashy costumes of comic book superheros, and countless sci-fi utopias/dystopias.”

However, Buechley emphasized that companies trying to bring wearables to market are likely to face significant hurdles, at least in the immediate future.

“The timescales of the fashion and electronics worlds are out of sync–though we think of technology as fast moving, clothing styles change much faster, every couple of months,” she concluded. “[Thus far], the most compelling e-textiles work has taken place on smaller scales in the art and design worlds.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out the Atmel-powered Arduino LilyPad here and “Sew Electronics” here.