Difference Between Electronic Textiles, Smart Textiles/Garments and Wearable Technology

Difference between e-textiles, smart garment and wearable technology

Technology is and will be the future and the more it is integrated with our life the better it gets. All the current trends in technology are moving towards making a seamless integration of them with our lives and it cannot get any closer than its integration with wearing them on our body.

As of now, there are numerous options of such technologies which through the implementation of different types of sensors and electronics in the garments and accessories we wear make this integration much smoother. These are collectively known by different names such as electronic textiles, smart garments, wearable technology, etc. And a question arises if all these mean the same or are different. These are different, and the difference comes with how they interact with us, how they are integrated with our body. The difference becomes more prominent as we go through what these terms refer to.

Wearable technology

Any form of technology in the form of a gadget or device that can be worn as an accessory and can collect and display any kind of information to the wearer is called wearable technology. These can be integrated with apparel but as of now most of such technology is limited to be used as accessories only. These technologies comprise hardware gadgets such as watches, bands, glasses, headphones, rings, shoes, and belts which are equipped with sensors that can track fitness, health condition, measuring body vitals.

The information collected can either be displayed on their display if equipped with one or else through a smartphone through different wireless technologies. Some of the easily available wearable technologies we all are aware of are smart bands, watches, glasses, headphones.

These products do not need any examples but then there are NFC/Bluetooth rings like Oura Ring 2, Echo Loops which come with voice assistance, information sharing options, security management or they can just be unlocking your phone.

Smart belts are also there from companies like WELT which have functions such as fall prevention, waist measurement, sitting time measurement, overeating monitoring, etc. Shoes from Nike, MI, Under Armour, Digisole, etc. can self-lace when worn, track body vitals, track activities like walking, running, etc.



Fig-1: Smart band/Fitness tracker



Fig-2: Smart Shoes by MI

Electronic textile

Electronic textiles or e-textiles are fabrics that enable digital components such as a battery, lights, sensors, and other such electronic components to be embedded into them. Electronic textiles have its root from a long time back with the use of conductive material such as gold or silver in the yarns of the fabric usually around the core of the yarn, but without electricity, it was mainly used for an aesthetic purpose. This started the trend towards incorporating more and more minuscule conducting materials into the yarns to make the textile wearable and capable of conducting electricity without harming the wearer.

We all know that to complete an electronic circuit a power source is also needed. As of now the most common source of power supply has been through an external battery, but the upcoming technology is planning to harvest energy from multiple sources such as wind, rain, and human movement making the electronic sensors self-powered. All these modifications have one thing in common that is these are designed to be worn without any uncomfortable feeling to the wearer.

The electronic textile can be divided into two different categories based on its application: aesthetics and performance.

Electronic textile for aesthetics:

Any kind of textile which employs the use of conducting yarns embedded in the fabric to complete a circuit and display some sort of visual comes under this category. It uses the different types of light sources with an optional power source to portray different visuals. The use of fibre optics in the yarns of the fabric can make it illuminate and change into different colour when needed. The LEDs and other light sources are also used to light up a different section of a garment and often can be controlled with an external device such as smartphones or remotes. Even some garments come with sensors such as motion and vibration to manipulate the lights to present stunning visuals. CuteCircuit is one such fashion technology brand with its unique products like White Twinkle T-shirt, mirror handbag, galaxy dress X, etc.



Fig-3: LEDs in the dress by CuteCircuit

Electronic textiles for Performance/ Smart Textiles

Textiles mostly in the form of garments that employ the use of conduction yarns, sensors, etc. embedded in the fabric to perform some specific task such as data collection or providing bespoke experience come under this category. It uses electronics in the form of a heating pad (Ralph Lauren Heated Jacket), vibrating pad, speakers, motion sensors, wireless connection. for interaction with the wearer. Similar to the above these electronics are also connected with external devices or can be operated with built-in controllers. There are various technology companies such as Butter Technologies Inc., CuteCircuit, Arduino, etc. who specialize in making these circuits which are apparel friendly and can be stitched or printed onto the textile surface.



Fig-4: Sound Shirt by CuteCircuit

Conclusion

The above definitions set the differences between all the above terms. Wearable technology is most often not directly related to textiles and is in the form of accessories whereas Smart Textiles/Garments are a subgroup of Electronic Textiles. Thus it can be said that every Smart garment is an Electronic Textile but every Electronic Textile is not Smart Textile.

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