A prototype garment which integrates electronic micro-devices into the core of yarns has been produced by scientists at Nottingham Trent University in the UK.

The advance, which could lead to the creation of “wearable and washable computers” suitable for medical and military use, came courtesy of researchers at the university’s Advanced Textiles Research Group.

They made the Micro Electronic Textiles (MET) by embedding light emitting diodes (LEDs) smaller than a pinhead into the yarn, producing “a smart textile which retains the fabric’s basic characteristics of being tactile, flexible, machine-washable and can be tumble-dried”.

Currently electronic modules are inserted after the clothing has been produced, making it inflexible and requiring their removal before washing.

The researchers believe the new technology could be used to monitor chemical reactions and vital signs for medical and sporting assessments, as well as having an impact on illuminated textiles in fashion.

“The prototype uses LEDs, but the technology can also result in variations of washable, wearable computers that can monitor vital signs for well-being, provide intelligent textiles for the military, have invisibility cloaking capabilities, and create flexible and conformable displays,” said Prof Tilak Dias, who leads the research group.

“Although the concept is technology-led, its focus is around design accessibility.”