Purdue Engineers Develop Washable WiFi-powered Clothes that Monitoring Health

Purdue engineers have developed a new spray/sewing method that can transform any traditional cloth item into a battery-free wearable device that can be washed in a washing machine. The researchers published their innovations in "Nano Energy".

“By spray-coating smart clothes with highly hydrophobic molecules, we are able to render them repellent to water, oil and mud,” said Ramses Martinez, an assistant professor in Purdue’s School of Industrial Engineering and in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering in Purdue’s College of Engineering. “These smart clothes are almost impossible to stain and can be used underwater and washed in conventional washing machines without damaging the electronic components sewn on their surface.”

The rigidity of typical waterproof garments and their reduced breathability make them feel uncomfortable after being worn for a few hours, reports Purdue University.

“Thanks to their ultrathin coating, our smart clothes remain as flexible, stretchable and breathable as conventional cotton T-shirts,” Martinez said.

Unlike ordinary wearable devices, Purdue smart clothing does not require battery power. By simply collecting energy from Wi-Fi or radio waves in the environment, these clothes can power circuits sewn on textiles.

When the wearer's hand is close to the live cable, the fingertip of the wireless voltage detection glove will glow. (Purdue University Photo/Rebecca McElhoe)

An example is a battery-free glove that illuminates the fingertips whenever the user approaches a live cable to warn of possible electric shock. The other is a miniature heart monitoring system sewn on a washable sweat belt, which can monitor the health of the wearer. “Such wearable devices, powered by ubiquitous Wi-Fi signals, will make us not only think of clothing as just a garment that keeps us warm but also as wearable tools designed to help us in our daily life, monitor our health and protect us from accidents,” Martinez said.

“I envision smart clothes will be able to transmit information about the posture and motion of the wearer to mobile apps, allowing machines to understand human intent without the need of other interfaces, expanding the way we communicate, interact with devices, and play video games.”

Read more Purdue University Researchers Develop Cheap, Biocompatible and Breathable Smart Stickers

This technology can be fabricated in conventional, large-scale sewing facilities, which are expected to accelerate the development and commercialization of future smart clothes.

Martinez and his team have worked with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to protect the intellectual property. The innovations are patent pending.