UCI Wearables Invention allows people to pay for their purchases with a High-Five

Imagine that your car starts up as soon as you get in, because it recognizes the jacket you are wearing. Consider the value of a hospital gown that continuously measures and transmits a patient’s vital signs. These are just two applications made possible by a new fabric enabling the “body network” invented by engineers at the University of California, Irvine.

In a recent article published in Nature Electronics, researchers at UCI’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering discuss how they integrated advanced metamaterials into flexible textiles to create a system capable of battery-free communication between clothing and devices. proximity.

“If you have placed your smartphone or payment card near a reader to pay for a purchase, you took advantage of near-field signaling technologies. Our fabrics work on the same principle, but we have extended the interval significantly, ”said co-author Peter Tseng, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the UCI. “This means that you could potentially keep your phone in your pocket, and just by rubbing your body against other textiles or readers, power and information can be transferred to and from your device.”

Main author Amirhossein Hajiaghajani, Ph.D. UCI. an electrical engineering and computer science student, said the invention allows users to digitally interact with nearby electronic devices and make secure payments with a simple tap or swipe of a stick.

“With our fabric, the electronics set up a signage as soon as you put your clothes on a wireless reader, so you can share information with a simple high-five or a handshake,” he said. “You would no longer need to manually unlock your car with a key or a separate wireless device, and your body would become the badge to open the facility doors.

Tseng likens the technology to a railroad that transmits power and signals as it passes through clothing. The system makes it easy to add new segments and separate garments can be paired up to ‘talk’ with each other.

Near field communications protocol has allowed the growth of applications such as wireless device charging and battery-less sensor power, but a downside of NFC was its limited range of just a few inches. UCI researchers extended the signal range to over 4 feet using passive magnetic metamaterials based on etched copper and aluminum foils.

The team’s innovation was designed to be very flexible and tolerant of body movements. Since the signals travel through the system invented by the UCI by magnetic induction – as opposed to the continuous wired connections that were state of the art in smart fabrics – it is possible to coordinate separate garments. In sportswear, pants can measure leg movement while communicating with tops that track heart rate and other stats.

The applications in medicine are endless, Hajiaghajani said, such as freeing hospital staff from the task of applying many sensors to patients, as they can all be integrated into gowns equipped with metamaterials.

The materials involved in the system are inexpensive and easy to fabricate and customize, he noted, and different lengths and legs of the metamaterial “rails” can be heat pressed onto wearers’ existing clothing – no need to. go out and buy a brand new high-tech tracksuit.

“Our textiles are simple to make and can be incorporated into interesting wearable designs,” Hajiaghajani said. “We want to create designs that are not only cool and inexpensive, but can also reduce the burden that modern electronics can place on our lives. “

Support for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation. The team also included Fadi Kurdahi, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the UCI, and graduate students Amir Hosein Afandizadeh Zargari, Manik Dautta and Abel Jimenez.