When you imagine the emerging market for Wearable Technologies, you'll likely think of eye glasses or wrist bands -- not garments or apparel. Think again; there's more innovation coming to the rapidly growing wearable tech category.
According to the latest market study by IDTechEx Research, the evolving field of electronic textiles (e-textiles) describes new technology that is reliant on e-fibers for electronic, electro-optic and electrical functionality.
Today, only conductive weavable fibers are widely available commercially. Include in that embroidery and other interleaving technologies using ribbon or fiber.
IDTechEx finds that 24 percent of e-textile development projects develop better conductive fibers and another 24 percent concern photovoltaic fibers. Next comes 16 percent of projects on supercapacitors on fibers, with several projects seeking multi-functionality on one fiber, such as supercapacitor layers to store the harvested energy from piezoelectric vibration harvesting or photovoltaic light and infra-red harvesting layers.
The IDTechEx study also found that most of the current research is being done in the USA. At present it looks as if progress will be modest for a few more years and a market of the order of one billion dollars may emerge in ten years when rapid market growth may begin.
For that to happen, there needs to be a much wider choice of functions and good interconnection technology all surviving demanding wash cycles. Batteries on a fiber would store more electricity than supercapacitors do but they are less favored -- due to cost and reliability when on a fiber.
Two wild cards may hasten market growth. They are sectors that have been very different because these fibers have not been weavable and rugged to the necessary extent but that is changing.
Firstly the old fiber optic cable, useful for sensing and optics, not just data transmission, is starting to be woven and secondly the impediment short length of carbon nanotubes and nanorods such as those of the dielectric, piezoelectric and semiconductor zinc oxide is being managed in some recent woven structures.
Of course, almost all electronic and electrical textiles today have iron-on or stitch-on functional patches or inlays but some have extremely tiny conventional components like integrated circuits and LEDs trapped by the fibers. These interim technologies have evolving options and applications.
Although textiles extend beyond apparel, IDTechEx believes that e-apparel is the main addressable market for e-textiles by far, notably for the sectors medical, health, fitness, wellness and for fashion.
A wider portfolio of capabilities, cost reduction and better integration will hasten the e-textile market along together with a wholehearted commitment by a major brand when its owners consider the technology ready for the mainstream marketplace.