Intelligent fabrics that can change color, charge a phone and keep you warm in cold weather are being hailed as the future of fashion.
Researchers are already working on smart clothes where very fine conductive threads will be woven into fabric and will allow the harvesting and storage of energy from the wearer's body.
What this means is that tomorrow's clothing could offer some extreme advantageous and useful technical possibilities in certain applications like military uniforms, for example. Conversely, it could also offer some visually horrendous opportunities that would allow the more fashion extrovert amongst us to wear Hawaiian shirts and shorts in winter, knowing the fabric will keep them warm.
Whereas this all sounds a tad sci-fi and unrealistic it is a fact that we are already seeing the embryonic stages of intelligent apparel finding its way into medical and sports clothing.
For military uniforms smart fabrics could seriously reduce the amount of batteries and cabling that are part of a soldier's kit
In fact British soldiers' uniforms could soon use electrically conducting material woven into the uniform that would replace some of cumbersome batteries and cabling that make up today's standard uniform issue.
UK-based Intelligent Textiles has patented a number of techniques for weaving complex conductive fabrics. Currently, separate batteries may be required for each piece of a soldier's equipment, which adds to their carrying load as well as being costly. What these smart uniforms could do is remove the hindrance of the many wires and cables required in military equipment. These can add weight and tangle and snag in combat situations.
Intelligent Textiles has managed to integrate smart fabrics into military uniforms, helmets, backpacks and gloves.
Whether we will see futuristic military applications of smart fabrics that will automatically change the colors of soldiers uniform to provide location-related camouflage is debatable. Such an application would have to be totally reliable in extremely harsh combat environments. We would not want to see troops charging out of a bunker and inadvertently transforming into harlequin figures!
Back to those urban fashionistas. Researchers are also saying that future neckties will be intelligent and capable of charging a mobile phone. But would you wear a smart necktie because it can charge your mobile phone, even if it clashed with your thermally cozy Hawaiian shorts?