Tuesday 14 January 2014
Smart Clothing: Charge Electronics with Your Shirt
In the future, your smart clothes will clean themselves, keep you from getting sick, and even charge your cell phone. Sunny day outside? Why not put on your solar panel shirt? We could even end up talking to our clothes...and they might talk back! Cell phone dying? Just plug it into your shirt. What have your clothes done for you lately? I mean, sure they keep you warm, and they give you a style, and I guess they help prevent you from getting arrested for public nudity. But apart from that they just kind of hang there. Well not for long. We are entering the era of smart clothing, where clothes will be able to do things like clean themselves, keep you from getting sick, and maybe even charge your electronics. Now if you're like me, and you lack the basic coordination necessary to transfer salsa from a corn chip to your mouth without getting it all down your shirt, then have I got some good news for you. Some Australian researchers have been working on these textile fibers by coating them with titanium dioxide nanocrystals. Now these crystals, when exposed to the sun, will produce hydroxyl radicals, which will actually break down organic matter through oxidation. So steal a couple of electrons from that red wine and bye-bye stains! And if you're tired of smelling like an ashtray every time you go off to the club or go to a concert, don't worry the nanocrystals can take care of that too. "But Jonathan!" I hear you all say. "My skin is made of organic material." Well luckily the molecules of our skin are too large for the crystals to break down, so don't worry about it dissolving you. Meanwhile, this means that we can actually conserve energy. How? Well, if the shirt cleans itself we don't have to put it in a washer and a dryer. And conserving energy is cool, but what about making energy? What if we could turn our style into chic mini power plants. Well we can do that. All you gotta do is move! To create these clothes, scientists coat kevlar fibers with layers of zinc-oxide nanowires only billionths of a meter thick. Each layer of nanowires is paired with a layer of fibers coated with gold to act as an electrode. The nanowires are shaped sort of like circular hairbrushes, and when you move they rub together, which causes them to bend. Now this pressure creates electricity via the piezoelectric effect, and the gold in the neighboring layers conducts the current down to a power adaptor that connects to your cell phone. In time our clothes are going to do more and more for us and that's going to change the way we think about them. And our style choices might go beyond don't wear white after labor day. Maybe we'll be thinking, "Hey! It's sunny outside, I should wear my shirt with a solar panel so I can charge my phone." Or "I am a total klutz, I gotta wear that sweatshirt that cleans itself all the time." They say that clothes make the man. And as out clothes do more and more, maybe we'll have to take that saying literally.