University of Cambridge Prints Circuits on Clothing

Wearable electronics have been hailed as the future of personal technology. Many have tried, but often these devices end up being bulky, heavy, or potentially dangerous. However, there may be a breakthrough yet. Researchers at the University of Cambridge may have pushed the industry in the right direction with their latest creation.

Printing Fully Integrated circuits onto fabric

Being able to wear circuits will change the way we live, the way we interact with one another, and the way we see the world. It could dramatically change the nature of what we expect from our clothing. No longer will they just be style statements, garments to cover our bodies, or tools to help us stay warm; no, now we’ll expect them to help us find Wi-Fi, to listen to our music… who knows, maybe even to help us transact with one another in Bitcoin.

The University of Cambridge, in concert with its partners in Italy and China, has created a fabric with graphene circuits which can be washed, worn, and stretched. Wearers experience these so-called smart clothes as regular, breathable clothing. The researchers utilized typical inkjet technology to print these circuits onto cloth. Graphene is a two-dimensional carbon structure that is durable and can conduct. The fact that they are using standard printing technology is amazing to me. This means that we could potentially start turning all of our currently-dumb clothes smart. I love backwards compatible technology!

We are still in the very early stages of this technology. While washable, these circuits can typically only survive about twenty washes. This is less than ideal, obviously. Clearly, there is still a lot of work left to do.

What does this mean for regular consumers?

While the technology is still very much in its infancy, there is good reason to get excited. In the same way that carrying a phone on our person at almost all times changed the way we think about life, smart clothes potentially offer something even more.

Think about it this way: If you forget your phone on your way to work, it’s a bad day. If you forget your clothes, it’s a disaster – potentially legally. I bring this up to show that we may be on the brink of extending ourselves through our clothing without the need for a separate device, nor for internal augmentation.

This is good news for people who want the convenience of their phone without fail, but who are also squeamish around needles or inserting things in their bodies.

I, for one, am delighted by the idea that my shirt might be able to connect to the internet. There is something incredible about having the “dumb” aspects of our lives be better able to extend ourselves and connect us to one another.