August 23, 2011

Researchers Wire Up Clothing


Researchers have developed radio antennas that can be sewn into clothes.

Ohio State University researchers created a prototype using plastic film and metallic thread.

The team said the system's range is four times greater than that of a conventional antenna worn on the body.

"Our primary goal is to improve communications reliability and the mobility of the soldiers," Chi-Chih Chen, one of the researchers, said in a press release.

"But the same technology could work for police officers, firefighters, astronauts - anybody who needs to keep their hands free for important work."

The scientists placed several antennas onto a piece of clothing to ensure the signal is strong and multidirectional.

"In a way, we're doing what's already been done on a cell phone. You don't see cell phones with external antennas anymore, because the antenna is part of the body of the phone," John Volakis, the Roy & Lois Chope Chair Professor and Director of the ElectroScience Laboratory at Ohio State, said in a press release.

The antenna and an integrated computer control device work together to sense body movement and switch to the optimal antenna.

According to the research, the technology would cost about $200 per person to implement.  The price could drop down once it was in mass production.

For right now, the technology is being developed for military uses.  However, the researchers said they could one day see it being used in other markets as well.

"Imagine a vest or shirt, or even a fancy ball gown made with this technology," Volakis said. "The antennas would be inconspicuous, and even attractive. People would want to wear them."

The research was published in the journal IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters.


Image Caption: John Volakis, Director of the ElectroScience Laboratory, holds a prototype communications antenna embroidered into cloth. Photo by Al Zanyk, courtesy of Ohio State University.


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