THE SMART TOUCH
With ‘smart’ (i.e. electrically conductive) textiles, which can warm us, illuminate our lives with colourful lighting, monitor our vital parameters or communicate with our smartphones via Bluetooth, the textile industry is creating a whole new field of applications in which growth rates of up to 30 percent per annum are forecast.
“Can it say ‘OK’?” – “Of course”; “High five?” – “Yep”; “And give the finger?” – “Mmm, that probably wouldn’t look too good!” Patiently, Dr. Maxime Chalou, Project Director at the German Aerospace Centre (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt – DLR) and co-developer of the ‘smart’ glove (photo above), answers all sorts of daft questions about gestures. “Inside there are flexible textile sensors, which measure the bending of the hand and fingers and transfer them to the robot arm,” explains Chalou. The finger movements don’t appear to be in any way stiff and the ‘smart’ robot-glove seems pretty flexible.
But it does however, have a very firm grip (ouch!) – and it will need to: if things go according the plans of the German Aerospace researchers, it will, in future, be the first thing out onto the inhospitable surface during Mars and Moon missions and will act as an easy-to-use construction aid. “With it, astronauts will be able to build an initial space station on the planet, by controlling it remotely from a space capsule or, indeed, from Earth,” says Chalou. But the robotic hand may well, in future, also be able to conduct experiments in space and undertake work on the International Space Station (ISS) itself – say to replace solar Panels.
Something new up their sleeve (in a sleeveless jacket!)
Even a trucker’s sleeveless jacket can be fairly smart – as Jürgen Reichart, Head of Technical Textiles at Roma Strickstoffe, demonstrates on their stand. Together with car-makers Mercedes, this knitted fabric manufacturer from Baden-Württemberg, whose knitted products are, amongst other things, made into things as diverse as tops, trouser supports and teddy bears, have developed a heated vest for lorry drivers. “Drivers have to frequently get out into the cold to load and unload their lorry, which is not good for their health or for their kidneys,” says Reichart. So, they have built into the vest an area of knitted polyester with a man-made-fibre conductive yarn embedded in it. The heating element can be switched on by remote control – and set to the desired level of warmth and comfort.