Someday Your Clothes Will Listen

By July 13, 2010

“If only my clothes could talk.” How many times have you thought that after a long day? Okay, never. But someday talking clothes might be a possibility, if tech coming out of MIT's Research Lab of Electronics is any indicat

ion. Yoel Fink, assistant professor of Materials Science, has developed fabric that can produce and emit sound.

"You can actually hear them, these fibers," says lab member Noémie Chocat. "If you connected them to a power supply and applied a sinusoidal current" — an alternating current whose period is very regular — "then it would vibrate. And if you make it vibrate at audible frequencies and put it close to your ear, you could actually hear different notes or sounds coming out of it."

This could mean that one day clothes become microphones, for capturing speech or monitoring bodily functions. Other uses imagined by the researchers are monitoring the flow of the ocean and large-scale sonar imaging systems. Materials made from the fabric would be the equivalent of millions of tiny acoustic sensors.

The MIT team also believes that fibers can one day produce energy. These new uses signal a fundamental change in fabric’s role.

“Fibre materials span a broad range of applications ranging from simple textile yarns to complex modern fibre-optic communication systems,” the researchers write. “Throughout their history, a key premise has remained essentially unchanged: fibres are static devices, incapable of controllably changing their properties over a wide range of frequencies”

The project will be written up in the August in Nature Materials.

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