Smart Fabrics Cool Body Temps and Carry Electrical Signals

Apparel companies focus on reinventing performance materials and sustainable clothing. Innovative textile options promise to help athletes compete at higher levels, monitor the elderly, and reduce cooling and heating requirements. 

Article Key

Image credit: AiQ SmartClothing

Smart fabrics are getting even smarter as researchers stitch together new materials that combine wearability and high-tech functionality. The textiles look and feel like standard fabrics but contain sensors, climate-control techniques, and other tech components. While still emerging, the intelligent textiles market is expected to reach $6.6 billion by 2026, up from $2.3 billion in 2021.

The emerging fashion spreads beyond the sports field, which has been gathering data to improve athletic prowess, to everyday fashion in offices, uniforms in warehouses, and protective military clothing. AiQ, for example, has a base upper body garment, dubbed Bioman+, that can be adapted to a range of smart clothing options. Using stainless steel fibers, yarns, and threads, AiQ is integrating sensor technology and conductive thread into clothing to carry electrical signals.

Emerging textiles can also detect metal and stains and high-tech clothing is recording user activities and vitals without the help of standard medical equipment. In another smart textile effort, Stanford Professor Yi Cui has been working on manufacturing fabrics that make climate control a breeze. 

LifeLabs, a materials science company stationed in the San Francisco Bay Area and led by Cui, has created the world’s first infrared-transparent fabric that effectively reduces a person’s body temperature up to 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Interested shoppers can choose from shirts, pants, shorts, windbreakers, jackets, vests, pants, and pajamas, as well as bedding items such as sheets and pillowcases based on LifeLabs’ technology.

Smart Fabric Impact on Energy Consumption

Cui and team see the technology as a major step toward creating a more sustainable environment. As of 2021, residential and commercial sectors in the United States use about one trillion kilowatt hours (kWh) each, with approximately 15 percent of this drained by residential and commercial space cooling and heating initiatives according to the US Energy Information Administration.

In an interview in the San Francisco Chronicle, Professor Cui described the impact smart fabric could have on energy consumption in the United States. “We spend so much energy cooling during summertime and warming during wintertime to make people feel comfortable indoors. If summer air-conditioning could go up 3 degrees Celsius, you could save roughly 30 percent of a building’s energy consumption. Every 1-degree Celsius saves 10 percent.”

LifeLabs smart fabric

Image credit: LifeLabs

Technology that Cools You Off and Warms You Up

The extreme weather clothing from LifeLabs encompasses technologies that aid in regulating both hot and cold temperatures. For the hot and balmy temps, Cui utilizes the power of infrared-transparent fabric that lowers the body temperature by allowing 100 percent of the body heat and infrared waves to move away from the body.

Called CoolLife, the fabric is made with polyethylene, a sustainable, recyclable polymer that allows wearers to adjust their personal thermostats by as much as 2 degrees.

In frostier months, LifeLabs gives us WarmLife, a proprietary technology that LifeLine claims uses “a paperclip’s worth of aluminum to reflect 100 percent of your radiant body heat back onto your skin.” It reflects body heat back toward the skin, boosting thermal insulation by as much as 27 percent. The fabrics are far more breathable, light, and contain approximately 30 percent less material than similar clothing, according to LifeLabs.

What’s Next for LifeLabs?

Professor Cui and his team are currently working on a dual-function fabric (code name Dual:Life) that can help with both cooling and heating a person as temperatures fluctuate.

Intel, the Intel logo, and other Intel marks are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries.