Fabrics containing flexible electronics are appearing in many novel products, such as clothes with in-built screens and solar panels. More impressively, these fabrics can act as electronic skins that can sense their surroundings and could have applications in robotics and prosthetic medicine. KAUST researchers have now developed smart threads that detect the strength and location of pressures exerted on them1.
Most flexible sensors function by detecting changes in the electrical properties of materials in response to pressure, temperature, humidity or the presence of gases. Electronic skins are built up as arrays of several individual sensors. These arrays currently need complex wiring and data analysis, which makes them too heavy, large or expensive for large-scale production.
Yanlong Tai and Gilles Lubineau from the University’s Division of Physical Science and Engineering have found a different approach. They built their smart threads from cotton threads coated with layers of one of the miracle materials of nanotechnology: single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs).
“Cotton threads are a classic material for fabrics, so they seemed a logical choice,” said Lubineau. “Networks of nanotubes are also known to have piezoresistive properties, meaning their electrical resistance depends on the applied pressure.”