"Smart Clothing" Closer to Reality with Development of Carbon Nanotube Sensors


A proximity sensor. / Photo by: Joongbae Kim via Wikimedia Commons


Sensors being developed can pave the way for the creation of “smart clothing.” Made of carbon nanotubes these sensors will have the capability to measure a wide range of pressure, as reported on the website eurekalert.org.

Engineers from the University of Delaware are working on these sensors that can be coated on different kinds of fibers such as wool, cotton, and nylon, which can then be made into clothes or soles for shoes that can be used to monitor specific measurements such as force and pressure. Measuring force or pressure is essentially used by clinicians to detect problems in certain patients who are suffering from mobility ailments.

However, the current materials used to manufacture smart clothing, including plating fibers with metal, can reduce the comfort and durability of the fabrics. But the novel concept shows higher flexibility and efficiency, compared to traditional components.

The engineering team created the composite coatings via electrophoretic deposition or EPD of polyethyleneimine functionalized carbon nanotubes. The materials were found to be lightweight, flexible, and breathable. They can sense pressure measuring from a light touch to several tons by transmitting electrical changes.

"The films act much like a dye that adds electrical sensing functionality. The EPD process developed in my lab creates this very uniform nanocomposite coating that is strongly bonded to the surface of the fiber. The process is industrially scalable for future application," said Associate Professor Erik Thostenson, from the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering, as quoted in the article.

One of the potential applications of the new materials is tracking the amount of force on people's feet when they walk. The data recorded by sensors can aid doctors to assess imbalance problems in injured patients. 

The data can also help experts recommend ways to prevent athletes from suffering related injuries. Patients with mobility disorders may also benefit.