The Future of Fabrics Brings New Meaning to Wearing a "Smart" Shirt

The textile industry gets “smart.”

Throw away that sweater and fitness band. Soon, clothes will be filled with sensors and chips that can see, hear, communicate, store energy, warm you up or cool you down, and monitor your health.

The Defense Department along with universities and about 50 other companies have embarked on a $320 million project to make the American textile industry more high-tech.

According to an article in The New York Times, the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America initiative is intended to create a national network of research and development, design and manufacturing capabilities. The products of this emerging field go by a handful of fun names including “functional fabrics,” “connected fabrics,” “textile devices” and “smart garments.” And the applications include combat uniforms that communicate and change color to prevent friendly fire, or uniforms with optical sensors that make a soldier invisible to an enemy’s night-vision goggles.

Research for this new spin on the Internet of Things is taking place at M.I.T. and the group envisions that incubators will be set up to generate ideas for commercial products. More important, manufacturing will take place in the U.S. to generate jobs and reinvent the textile industry.

Of course, for a sensor-loaded shirt to be successful, it still has to be affordable and durable enough to go through the laundry. (And, if they invent clothes that will make me look 10 pounds thinner, well, then I don’t care what it costs!)

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