Smart Materials

Integrated sensors turn articles of clothing into truly high-tech garments that can monitor your breathing or map your movements on a computer screen. With support from WACKER, Danish start-up LEAP Technology has developed just this kind of sensor – based on ultrathin silicone films and conductive silicone elastomers.

High-tech sportswear from Electricfoxy, a US start-up based in Seattle. The integrated sensors are produced by LEAP Technology.

The sport shirt hugs her torso like a second skin, registering the pilates student’s every movement without her noticing a thing. The highly accurate sensors constantly transmit data over a bluetooth connection to a smartphone, whose software detects incorrect movements, protecting the athlete from muscle tears or inflammations – even when she is working out in her own living room, where there is no instructor to monitor whether she is doing the exercises correctly.

Smart textiles – textiles with integrated sensors intended to make the clothing of the future more intelligent – are opening up new growth opportunities in the athletic apparel, consumer electronics and medical technology industries. Market researchers at IDTechEx estimate that total global sales of wearable technologies – of which smart textiles account for an ever-increasing share – will reach approximately €12 billion this year and roughly €70 billion by 2025.

Electroactive elastomers made by LEAP Technology undergo a test: a power source is attached to the coated silicone film.

Benefits for Rehab Patients

There is virtually no limit to the potential applications of this technology. For gamers, sensors on the body can transmit movements onto a screen, allowing players to compete in a sword fight with a virtual opponent. Like yoga or pilates instructors, physical therapists can also use integrated sensors, in this case for determining whether rehab patients are performing their therapy exercises exactly as prescribed.

“This kind of wearable technology offers a number of advantages, especially in rehabilitation or for long-term patients,” says Renate Glowacki, an applications chemist for silicone films at WACKER. “The materials work around the clock, imperceptibly monitoring processes like swelling or respiratory movement, and warning the wearer or the treating physician if the patient’s health is threatened.”