What could your walking jacket say about you?

October 2011

What could your walking jacket say about you?

Your walking jacket could soon become more than just your trusty friend in rain, wind or cold ... it could also be the communication device you turn to in an emergency.

At least that's one potential outcome from the work of researchers at Ohio State University who are building radio antennas constructed using plastic film etched with metallic thread then sewing them into clothes.

The notion of embedded electronic devices is not new. What's excited this research team is that they've managed to extend the previous work in this area by adding a unique computer control device to let multiple antennas work together in a single piece of clothing.

The end result is a system that can send and receive signals without the need of an external antenna. Of course, mobile phones no longer have external antennas anymore either. However the reliability of phones can be affected by contact with human skin (as demonstrated recently with the iPhone 4) or if the user is close to a wall or other large obstacle.

Both these problems have been overcome in the Ohio State approach. In their tests they sewed four of the flexible antenna into the shoulders, chest and back of garments - so there are a number of antenna surrounding the body. These can transmit and receive whichever way the wearer is facing with the integrated control device (about the size of a credit card ) activating whichever antenna will produce the best performance. The signal strength is also 'significantly greater' than that produced by a standard antenna.

Using a typical domestic sewing machine (surely one of the more unusual pieces of engineering lab equipment!), the research team have already been 'embroidering' the metallic-thread antenna into everyday fabrics such as cotton and taffeta - and produced functional antennas.

This development was originally aimed at providing much lighter weight, more reliable, hands-free communications for soldiers on the move, law enforcement and emergency services. However, the research team have also recognised the much wider potential application for consumers of this inconspicuous and flexible communication device.

The prototype systems available at the moment are estimated to cost $200 per person. However, larger scale production will reduce these costs significantly.

Research published originally here: Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters


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