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At least 70% of our time we are in contact with textiles and they are starting to become intelligent. This report is about the ultimate form of that - e-textiles based on inherently electronically or electrically-active woven e-fibers. These disruptive technologies will have an exponentially increasing market but with a slow start because they are so challenging. E-textiles vary from apparel to drapes, bandages and bed linen but most is in the laboratory not production. They will variously be able to sense, emit light, show changing images, heat, cool, change shape, compute and wirelessly communicate or harvest ambient energy to create electricity where needed, even diagnose and sometimes treat medical conditions.
E-textiles are the ultimate way of making the smart apparel rapidly being launched by Adidas, Reebock and Nike and the smart patches being rapidly adopted in healthcare. Conductive apparel and textiles with electronics attached by sewing, heat sealing and so on is already sold by many companies for many purposes and much of this will use true e-textiles based on e-fibers in due course. Here is a basis of subtle designer fashion as opposed to the popular but ugly smart apparel of today. Even the top design houses are following this next phase, which mainly exists in research laboratories at present. For the scientist, there is much of interest, including provision of weavable forms of fiber optics, carbon nanotubes and inorganic nanorods. For now, priorities include stretchable fibers, notably functioning as photovoltaics and supercapacitors for energy harvesting (you store what you gather) and as stretchable interconnects between very small chip components in textiles. Then there are fiber batteries, memory and many other components being demonstrated and a rapid move to several capabilities on one fiber such as sensors and electro-optics. In its thoughtful analysis, IDTechEx sees somewhat different winners in this new, more radical form of electronically and electrically active textile. We explain how several new developments are key for more than one capability of an e-fiber, examples including solid electrolytes for batteries, DSSC and supercapacitors and inherently very conductive fiber. Why is there much more work on piezoelectric fiber than transitor or memory fiber and what is it all for anyway? It is all here.
Compared to today's wearable electronics, for example, there is less opportunity to use true e-textiles for infotainment but more for fashion. However, both involve huge opportunities in the merging healthcare, medical, fitness and wellness sector. Winners will not be those currently dominating mobile phones and similar devices who are taking leadership in smart glasses, wristbands, headware etc., but the many start-ups, fashion houses, medical electronics companies and so on. Europe will be a strong contender with its unique transnational development programs that are exceptionally comprehensive along the emerging value chain. Timelines and approximate market size are given and development work appraised. There is also a look at smart textiles that may transistion to being true e-textiles.
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