The "fully electronic fibres" can be incorporated into apparel production say researchers at the Uni of Exeter

The "fully electronic fibres" can be incorporated into apparel production say researchers at the Uni of Exeter

Researchers at the University of Exeter claim to have "pioneered" a new technique to create "fully electronic fibres" that can be incorporated into the production of everyday clothing.

The new research, carried out by the Centre of Graphene Science in collaboration with the Universities of Aveiro and Lisbon in Portugal, and CenTexBel in Belgium, integrates the electronic devices into the fabric of the material, by coating electronic fibres with light-weight, durable components that will allow images to be shown directly on the fabric.

The research team believes the discovery could revolutionise the creation of wearable electronic devices for use in a range of everyday applications, as well as health monitoring, such as heart rates and blood pressure, and medical diagnostics.

They say it also tackles the problem wearable electronics currently faces of being glued to fabrics, which make them "too rigid and susceptible to malfunctioning".

Professor Craciun, co-author of the research, says: "For truly wearable electronic devices to be achieved, it is vital that the components are able to be incorporated within the material, and not simply added to it."

Dr Ana Neves, co-author and also from Exeter's Engineering department, adds: "The key to this new technique is that the textile fibres are flexible, comfortable and light, while being durable enough to cope with the demands of modern life."

At just one atom thick, graphene is the thinnest substance capable of conducting electricity. It is very flexible and is one of the strongest known materials. This new research used existing polypropylene fibres – typically used in a host of commercial applications in the textile industry – to attach the new, graphene-based electronic fibres to create touch-sensor and light-emitting devices.

Dr Elias Torres Alonso, research scientist at Graphenea says: "This new research opens up the gateway for smart textiles to play a pivotal role in so many fields in the not-too-distant future. By weaving the graphene fibres into the fabric, we have created a new technique to all the full integration of electronics into textiles. The only limits from now are really within our own imagination."

Smart textiles and wearable technology are quickly growing in popularity as consumers are increasingly relying on technology in their day-to-day lives, be it smartphones or portable fitness monitors.

Earlier this year researchers in the US claimed a "world-first" by producing fibres with embedded electronics that are so flexible they can be woven into soft fabrics and made into wearable clothing. 

In October, the UK Centre for Process Innovation announced a new smart clothing project to scale-up the development of wearable technology in textiles.