Humans have been highly successful in overcoming various challenges posed to them by nature since the beginning of life on Earth. Surviving in extreme temperatures is one of these challenges that has arisen on almost every planet and culture. The people of the 15th century, for example, could never have imagined that artificially creating cool air or a warm, toasty room would be commonplace a few centuries later. That would have seemed like an impossible dream to them.
However, today, we can easily regulate the temperature of a room by setting the temperature on the thermostat to whatever we desire, and within 10-20 minutes, we can be completely comfortable, irrespective of the temperature outside, thanks to the tremendous progress we’ve made in various fields of technology.
However, there is something even smarter, more intelligent and more portable that humans will soon be using around the world. What if I said that very soon, your clothes will be able to take care of your comfort levels and temperature?
Clothes that Regulate Temperature
Professor Joseph Wang, chairman of the nano-engineering department and the director for the Center for Wearable Sensors at UC San Diego, is leading a team of scientists working on the concept of producing smart fabrics. The belief is that these special fabrics could potentially reduce or increase their temperature according to the temperature of the surroundings.
Quite interestingly, the project has been named ATTACH (Adaptive Textiles Technology with Active Cooling and Heating). Personally, I can’t stand acronyms that seem like a “stretch”, so top marks to the team for such an appropriate name.
How Does it Work?
To make the temperature of the cloth change, certain electrodes will be built into the garment. Now, you might be thinking, ‘Won’t it look a little unusual if I hung a bunch of electrodes around my neck and went about my business?” That’s a fair question, but don’t worry. Thanks to the fabric’s clever design, you wouldn’t even realize that there were electrodes on the garment.
This is made possible by making use of garment-based printable electrodes. These electrodes are designed to regulate the temperature of the skin of the wearer by adapting to the temperature of the surroundings. Also, these electrodes are printable, meaning that they won’t be too obvious or obtrusive to the wearer.
The electrodes will become thicker when the temperature around the wearer falls below 34 Degree Celsius (93 Degree Fahrenheit) and will become thinner when the temperature of the surroundings rises above this temperature. To make this possible, scientists will insert polymers inside the fabric that expand and shrink in hot and cool temperatures, respectively.
Will the Clothes Look Like Sci-fi Movie Outfits?
Ummm… Absolutely not.
These cutting-edge clothes will look just like regular clothes and will have all the properties that regular clothes possess; they can be washed, stretched, and folded without any difficulty whatsoever. Not only that, but the team has also said that they will try to make the clothes look ‘attractive and fashionable’.
The Big Picture
The concept of smart fabrics not only serves the idea of a personalized air conditioner; it can do far more than that. The leader of the team, Professor Wang, has a much bigger picture in mind. “We have calculated that for each degree change in temperature in a consumer’s home, the energy costs increase by 6 to 8%. Instead of heating entire homes, the ATTACH project will focus on heating or cooling the individual to provide better comfort and significantly reduce costs,” he said.
Personalized heating and cooling, protecting the environment, conserving electricity, and doing it all with cool-looking clothes… it may sound like a far-off dream, but it’s closer than you think!
All I can say is…Way to go ATTACH!
- Stanford Engineers Develop A Plastic Clothing Material That Cools The Skin – Stanford University
- Science Daily
- Washington Post