Whose Cleantech Are You Wearing?

Clothes Hanging in the Sun

By Jonny Wakefield

February 20, 2014

The ability to embed computers into the clothes we wear could have far-reaching implications for how we work, live and play. But for the technology to catch on, it has to look and feel like regular clothing. 

That means smart textiles have to fold - despite containing solar cells, conductive fibers and batteries. New research from a team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), however, seems to have set a new standard for flexibility in wearable electronics. 

The KAIST research team has produced a prototype battery that is able to hold more than 90 percent of its charge even after being folded 5,500 times, according to the Specialty Fabrics Review. The battery, powered by lightweight solar cells contained in the fabric, is designed for use in wearable computing technology. 

“It can be used as a core-source technology in the rechargeable battery industry in the future," said KAIST professor Jang-Wook Choi, in a release. "Various wearable mobile electronic products can be developed through cooperation and collaboration within the industry.”

The market for flexible electronics is growing quickly, added Choi. The drive to better integrate batteries and computers into fabric has led to serious investment in British Columbia. 

Of the $9 million in funding that the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council awarded to the University of British Columbia this year, more than $1 million is earmarked for wearable technology research. That money will fund two projects headed by UBC professor Peyman Servati.   

The technology's uses are wide-ranging, from monitoring the heart rates of medical patients to charging electronics with solar power, Servati told the Vancouver Sun

Among the Vancouver-area labs developing wearable technology components are ReFlex Wireless, Inc., and  UBC's Flexible Electronics and Energy Lab (FEEL). FEEL is currently developing "low cost and mechanically flexible photovoltaic" cells, while ReFlex is exploring flexible nanofibre technology.