Future Fabrics Make Social Media Tactile And Translate Light Into Audio

Future Fabrics Make Social Media Tactile And Translate Light Into Audio
Design

PSFK attended the opening of AFFOA’s first Fabric Discovery Center, where advanced technology is being woven into textiles

Isabella Alimonti
  • 26 june 2017

The fabrics of the future might look and feel like your favorite t-shirt, but they’ll be capable of so much more. Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), a non-profit organization dedicated to advancements in smart textile design and U.S. manufacturing, envisions “fabrics as the new software,” which is to say that they will not only make up our clothing and accessories, but provide services as well. The crux of AFFOA’s work involves incorporating semiconductor technology into textile fibers and yarns so the fabric itself is networked and responsive, with no additional components needed.

At a launch event on Monday, AFFOA unveiled their first Fabric Discovery Center (FDC) near the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The center—home to state-of-the-art machinery for smart textile manufacturing—will serve as a startup incubator and a resource for end-to-end prototype production. There, the group will develop “fabrics that see, hear, sense, communicate, store and convert energy, regulate temperature, monitor health, and change color,” said Yoel Fink, CEO of AFFOA and a professor of materials science and engineering at MIT.

AFFOA used the event to demonstrate two of their commercially-ready technologies. The first, a “programmable backpack,” is the result of a collaboration with JanSport. Attendees received JanSport backpacks patterned with white and grey plaid. Though they appear uniform at first glance, each of the 300 backpacks has a unique pattern that functions like a barcode. A companion smartphone app (available for Android and iOS) allows users to scan the backpack to view its owner’s social profile, including name, company, title, alma mater and a favorite song.

Ideal for networking and student groups, this technology can also be programmed to track the backpack if the owner loses it. At the event, attendees were encouraged to scan each other’s backpacks; these connections were displayed in real time as a web-like graphic on screens around the room. The backpacks are part of a series called ‘Looks,’ which includes a hoodie, jacket and laptop sleeve patterned with stripes comprising unique codes, created by algorithm. These items, which lend a physical aspect to social media, are just the first step in what could be a new approach to the customization of consumer goods.

The second innovation showcased was ‘Fabric LiFi,’ a remarkable technology that converts LED light pulses to hi-fi audio. For the demonstration, the AFFOA team fitted trucker caps with earbuds and a Fabric Lifi button top. White dot decals on the floor marked various places in the room where attendees could stand under an LED beam and listen to a voice recording. Each location offered different audio, transmitted through light and converted and conducted through the hat fabric. Covering the top of the cap with a hand, thus blocking the light, would halt the sound.

Fink cited indoor navigation (getting directions in a hospital from the overhead lights) and installation personalization (hearing different curatorial information depending on where you stand in a gallery) as potential applications of this light-based fabric communication. With it and other advanced textile systems, routines that have been increasingly geared toward screens might begin to turn in favor of non-virtual spaces and tangible objects.

AFFOA, which formed last year, has earned over $300 million in funding from the federal and state governments, corporate partners and academic institutions. Its members include military, textile manufacturers, universities, tech companies and high-profile brands like Nike and New Balance. A member search function displays a map of AFFOA partners around the country, which users can refine by the specific facility or expertise they need to put an idea into motion, to encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing.

It’s likely that many of AFFOA’s early fabrics will be applied to military tools and apparel. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Governor Charlie Baker, and Representatives Niki Tsongas and Joe Kennedy III spoke of their support on behalf of the Massachusetts government at the FDC launch. AFFOA plans to open a second FDC at UMass Lowell—a city famed for its textile mills during the Industrial Revolution—before setting its sights on additional locations around the country.

AFFOA

The fabrics of the future might look and feel like your favorite t-shirt, but they’ll be capable of so much more. Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), a non-profit organization dedicated to advancements in smart textile design and U.S. manufacturing, envisions “fabrics as the new software,” which is to say that they will not only make up our clothing and accessories, but provide services as well. The crux of AFFOA’s work involves incorporating semiconductor technology into textile fibers and yarns so the fabric itself is networked and responsive, with no additional components needed.

+consumer goods
+Design
+Fashion
+internet of things
+IoT
+Military
+MIT
+Smart Textiles
+Social Media
+technology

Learn About Our Membership Services

Need Research Help?
As a member you can ask us any research questions and get complimentary research assistance with a 4-day turnaround. Reports inclde stats, quotes, and best-inclass examples on research topics.
Remain Informed & Strategic
We publish several trends reports each month. By becoming a member you will have access to over 100 existing reports, plus a growing catalog of deep topical analysis and debrief-style reports so you always remain in the know.
See Trends Come To Life
Meet your peers and immerse yourself in monthly trend and innovation webinars and discounted conferences.
No search results found.