Science

Move over facial-recognition! "Smart clothes" that store passcodes are here

02 Nov 2017 | By Ramya Patelkhana

Computer scientists at University of Washington, including an Indian-origin researcher, developed a new "smart fabric" that stores information in clothes invisibly without built-in sensors or power source.

They used the fabric to make clothes and accessories that store data, passcodes, identification-tags, security-codes, etc. and unlock doors and other things.

Researchers said stored data can be read by an instrument existing in all smartphones.

In context: Smart fabric can store passcodes, data without electricity

02 Nov 2017Move over facial-recognition! "Smart clothes" that store passcodes are here

StudyCan throw smart fabric into washing-machine, even iron it

In a paper presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's User Interface Software and Technology Symposium (UIST-2017), the scientists said they "leveraged previously unexplored magnetic properties of the off-the-shelf conductive thread."

Senior author of the study, Shyam Gallakota, stated, "This is a completely electronic-free design, which means you can iron the smart fabric or put it in the washer and dryer."

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No on-board electronics or sensors

Conductive ThreadNo on-board electronics or sensors

Most people have been combining conductive thread (embroidery-thread carrying electrical current) with other electronics to create fashion accessories, outfits, stuffed toys, etc. that communicate.

But researchers realized the "off-the-shelf conductive thread" also possesses magnetic properties that could be manipulated to store digital data/visual information.

This stored information can be read by magnetometer- an inexpensive instrument embedded in smartphones to measure direction/magnetic field strength.

Unlocked DoorNegligible cost of reading smart fabric data: Gallakota

Gallakota said they're using something which is present in most smartphones; the fabric uses almost no power. The cost of reading the stored data is also negligible.

Giving an example, he said they stored an electronic door-lock's passcode on a piece of smart fabric sewn to a shirt's cuff.

The wearer unlocked it just by waving the cuff in front of the arranged magnetometers.

Fashion AccessoriesSmart fabric is like a wearable hard disk

The UW scientists created accessories like ties, belts, wristbands, necklaces, etc. with the smart fabric.

They conducted stress tests in which the fabric could retain the stored data even after machine washing/drying and even ironing at 320-degrees Fahrenheit.

Unlike this new kind of smart fabric, many existing smart garments need built-in sensors and electronics; they also become non-functional if they get wet.

Smart GlovesFabric controls smartphones without even touching them

The magnetic signal strength of the smart fabric weakens by nearly 30% after a week's use. But it can be magnetized and programmed several times.

The magnetized fabric can interact with a smartphone even if it's inside a pocket.

Scientists developed gloves by sewing the smart fabric patches into the fingertips.

Different gestures yielded different signals, invoking various actions like playing/pausing music.

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No need to take smartphone out of pocket

Study's lead author Justin Chan said, "We can easily interact with smart devices without having to constantly take it out of our pockets." With the gloves, the phone recognized six gestures (left/right flick, upward/downward swipe, click, and back click) with 90% accuracy.