Information stored invisibly in fabric

smart fabric

The computer scientists at University of Washington developed new type of smart fabric it can store security codes and identification tags.

The UIST 2017, previously unexplored magnetic properties of conductive thread. The data  read using smartphones, an existing instrument in smartphone that enables navigation apps.

This is a completely electronic-free design, which means you can iron the smart fabric or put it in the washer and dryer, said senior author Shyam Gollakota, associate professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. You can think of the fabric as a hard disk you’re actually doing this data storage on the clothes you’re wearing.

The embroidery thread that can carry an electrical current as conductive thread used by people.

But off-the-shelf conductive thread also has magnetic properties. Manipulated to store either digital data or visual information like letters or numbers. Moreover, the device used to read data known as magnetometer. It measures strength of magnetic fields and directions embedded in smartphones.

We are using something that already exists on a smartphone and uses almost no power, so the cost of reading this type of data is negligible, said Gollakota. Researchers stored the password to an electronic door lock on conductive fabric patch sewn to shirt cuff. They unlocked the door by waving the cuff in front of an array of magnetometers.

The researchers align the poles in either a positive or negative direction. Relatively to 1s and 0s in digital data. They used conventional sewing machines to embroider fabric with off-the-shelf conductive thread. Magnetic poles where start out in a random order. By rubbing a magnet against the fabric. The fabric re-magnetized and re-programmed multiple times.

The data in fabric patch maintains its data after ironing, machine washing.

The team demonstrated magnetized fabric used to interact with a smartphone while it is in one’s pocket. Also developed glove with conductive fabric sewn into its fingertips. To gesture at the smartphone, each gesture possess different magnetic signal performs specific actions like pausing or playing music.

“With this system, we can easily interact with smart devices without having to constantly take it out of our pockets,” said lead author Justin Chan, an Allen School doctoral student.

However, the phone recognized six gestures left, right, upward, downward, click and back click. Future work is focused on developing custom textiles. To generate stronger magnetic fields and are capable of storing a higher density of data.