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Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst unveil developments on a lightweight, fabric-based power supply alternative to batteries for wearable devices.

UMass Amherst Scientists Develop Fabric Substitute for Wearable Device Batteries


AMHERST, Mass.—Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst unveil developments on a lightweight, fabric-based power supply alternative to batteries for wearable devices. Led by materials chemist Trisha L. Andrew, researchers describe it as a charge-storing system that is easily integrated into clothing for “embroidering a charge-storing pattern onto any garment.”

“Batteries or other kinds of charge storage are still the limiting components for most portable, wearable, ingestible, or flexible technologies,” explains Andrew in an announcement by the research team. “The devices tend to be some combination of too large, too heavy and not flexible.”

The design uses a micro-supercapacitor with vapor-coated conductive threads and a polymer film, as well as a special sewing technique to create a flexible mesh of aligned electrodes affixed to a textile backing. The final product is a compact device capable of storing a charge and powering wearable biosensors.

“With this paper, we show that we can literally embroider a charge-storing pattern onto any garment using the vapor-coated threads that our lab makes,” Andrew elaborates. “This opens the door for simply sewing circuits on self-powered smart garments.”

Andrew and her team point out that these supercapacitors are prime candidates for wearable charge storage circuits as they have higher power densities than conventional batteries. As the team continues to refine the device, the team is working to incorporate e-textile sensors and low-power microprocessors to build smart garments that can monitor a person’s daily joint movements and walking pace.

The news is one of the latest developments as universities around the globe continue to integrate wearable tech with conductive threads. In late 2017, researchers at the University of Washington revealed a prototype of a shirt that uses a built-in sensor that replaces conventional identification cards used to open secure electronic locks. 

To read more about the study, visit http://www.umass.edu/newsoffice/article/umass-amherst-materials-scientist-creates.