Cleanable smart material brings touch interface control to vehicles

Phil Curry - 13 Jan 2012

A cleanable, touch-sensitive smart fabric developed in Canada has attracted the interest of the automotive industry.

The material could be used in car seats or dashboards to control various in-car functionsThe team from Polytechnique Montréal received interest from motor manufacturer GM and engineering firm Bombardier while developing the fabric, which is part of a larger project run by the Canada Research Council looking at creating materials capable of carrying displays and lighting.

The fabric behaves like a touchscreen on a smart device. Swiping a finger over it will allow you to control certain aspects of a vehicle's electronics, such as selecting a music track. Pinching may enable you to turn down volume.

Automotive possibilities

Researcher Maksim Skorobogaity comments: 'Touch is cool: it makes products that integrate it more appealing. People get very involved with their devices and touch adds a new element to them.

'We wanted to transfer touch controls into fabrics, and add this attachment to vehicles and clothes, as well as other areas where fabric could be used.'

Smart fabrics applications have previously been hindered by the inability to wash or clean them, but the research team's fabric is designed to avoid this issue.

Skorobogaity explains: 'Rather than use small metal wires or particles, we have instead woven conductive plastic into the fibres. The result is a material that is similar to Teflon, a synthetic material that is easy to keep clean, while it can be sponged clean.

'Our samples were handled regularly but stayed quite clean. We have not tested this further and have not put the material in the washing machine. The material does need to be disconnected from its power source first.'

The fabric is ready to be produced, but the team is currently looking for an investor to adopt the technology.

Skorobogaity adds: 'The only question for us now is over scaling up. What quantities will be needed by manufacturers? We can produce small quantities ourselves, but not enough to cover large areas.'

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