Researchers in the Allen School’s Networks & Mobile Systems Lab have come up with a smart fabric that can be used to store passcodes, keys, and other such information. It is a new kind of textile that does not require forms of power or sensors to operate it. The brains behind the new kind of smart fabric imbued with computing and interaction capabilities are Shyam Gollakota and Justin Chan. The Ph.D. students from the University of Washington (UW) used off-the-shelf conductive threads to create intelligent fabric by exploiting the undiscovered inherent magnetic properties of everyday threads.
An alternative to expensive RFID-based authentication systems, the data in the fabric can be read using existing hardware in smartphones. Completely electronic-free design, the smart fabric can be ironed or washed by machine. Senior author Shyam Gollakota, associate professor in UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering explained, “You can think of the fabric as a hard disk – you’re actually doing this data storage on the clothes you’re wearing.”
According to ibtimes, the researchers sewed a magnetic patch containing an identifying image onto the sleeve of a shirt, which was then passed in front of a prototype magnetic fabric reader containing an array of magnetometers and a microprocessor. The reader then determined whether the signals emitted from the sleeve matched a predetermined pattern, and when they did the sleeve unlocked the door. The duo admitted Allen School News that they foresee a future were accessories such as neckties, wristbands, and belts will double up as data storage and authentication tools.
When it comes to the technicalities, the researchers shared that the data is written into the fabric by aligning the magnetic poles of the thread in specific directions. The directions that the poles point towards can be seen as the 1 and 0 that make up most digital data, noted the report. This can be done by physically rubbing a magnet against the thread. Although it is still at research stage, this is exciting stuff. We look forward to seeing this development leading to it being applied to our everyday clothes sooner rather than later.