One big constriant on wireless electronics is the antenna. It has to be made of metal and it has to be a certain size. On top of thating touch one can create a short circuit, drastically reducing its efficiency. (This is why iPhone 4 owners has problems with the "death grip" last year). Soldiers carrying radio equipment often have to contend with traditional whip antennas that are cumbersome in the best of times.
However, there may finally be a way around this: sew the antenna into clothing. The idea of incorporating electronics into clothing isn't new, but a team at Ohio State University has found a way to make it work much more efficiently. Previously the problem was that a wearable antenna would sometimes touch a person's skin, or the wearer would walk into a building and turn away from the source of the strongest signal. But Chih-Chih Chen, a research associate professor and a co-author of the research, says by integrating a control device with the antenna (and stitching the threads so they are on different sides of the body) the antennas that are near the strongest signal can be turned on while the others are disengaged.
The team started by etching thin layers of brass on plastic film, which could be sewed onto a fabric. They then attached it to a vest with the controller mounted in a belt (the controller unit is about the size and thickness of a credit card). The antenna worked as well as a conventional antenna in tests and worked as well no matter what direction the wearer was facing. Later versions of the technology will sew the antenna directly into fabric using metallic threads.
Integrating antennas into clothing would greatly reduce the loads soldiers have to carry, but the OSU researchers also see it as useful for the general public. Assistive devices that need radios, for example, could be made part of any piece of (fashionable) closthing, as the metallic threads can be sewn into a wide variety of fabrics and be incorporated into patterns.
The technology gives a new meaning to Tim Gunn's catch phrase "make it work."
Credit: Ohio State University