Turning clothes into computers, without electricity

For all the talk of integrating computers into clothing, here’s an interesting option. Make clothing the computer, and make it without electricity. Mechanical engineers at rice universityThe George R. Brown School of Engineering is trying out the concept with a set of textile-based pneumatic computers capable of digital logic, on-board memory, and user interaction.
The lab’s “fluidic digital logic” takes advantage of the way air flows through a series of “twisted” channels to form bits, the 1s and 0s in computer memories. The idea is for such textile-based logic gates to support pneumatic actuators, potentially in conjunction with an energy harvesting system developed by the Preston lab, to help people with functional limitations in their daily tasks. Research supported by a recent national science foundation CAREER Award appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Preston said the lab’s logical textiles can be mass-produced using existing garment-making processes and are strong enough to withstand everyday use. The researchers claimed that flush doors are both comfortable and strong enough to drive a truck without damaging them. (And they proved it.) For more information, see the IDTechEx report on E-Textiles & Smart Clothing 2021-2031: Technologies, Markets and Players.

“The idea of ​​using fluids to build digital logic circuits is not new,” he said. “And actually over the last decade people have been moving towards implementing fluid logic in soft materials, things like elastomers. But until now, nobody had taken the leap. to implement it in leaf-based materials, a feat that required a redesign of the entire approach from first principles.”

The lab tested its logic on devices that assist users in their physical movements and on a system for raising and lowering a hood at the press of a button, without electricity, for thermoregulation.

“We believe there are many ways to implement this to help people go about their daily activities,” Preston said. “One of the next areas we look at is intent detection. As soon as the wearer initiates an action plan, we can then offer support for the rest of that action. For example, you can start typing an object and if the system detects your intention, it will help you close your hand around that object so that you can lift it”, he said.

At the center of the concept is a “NOT” gate, a basic component of computer circuitry also known as an inverter. The output of this logic gate is the inverse (or opposite) of the input. In an electronic circuit, the door is on or off (1 or 0), but the pneumatic door replaces these terms with “high” or “low” air pressure.

“We view the logic element as, at its most fundamental level, containing both a relay and a fluidic resistance”, said Anoop Rajappan, Rice postdoctoral fellow and lead author of the paper. “That would be equivalent to having an electronic relay or transistor coupled to the resistor, which is the foundation of typical transistor-resistor logic.”

The pneumatic system depends on a concept that Preston describes as mathematically designed pleat geometry, implemented in pressure-controllable valves that shut off airflow in the same way that a bent garden hose shuts off air. water. The valves, each about a square inch in size, are laminated in textiles and have proven to be tough enough to handle 20,000 on-off cycles and 1 million flex cycles, as well as 20 cycles in a washing machine. standard household.

Source and top image: Rice University

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