PCB – Printed Clothing Board?

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The iPhone 6 came out recently and has already been mired in controversy. It turns out that if you walk around with the phone in your pocket, there’s a good chance that it might bend. The problem is of course… it’s not supposed to bend. Up until now, printed circuit boards have sat within every electronic device you have ever owned, including your iPhone. Solid, durable, inflexible. However, that is about to change and in a way – unlike with the iPhone 6 – that is utterly intentional.PCB

It seems that some electronics whizz kids in Hong Kong have created ‘fabric’ circuit boards utilising something they have called computerized knitting technology (presumably this is the mid-point between Steve Jobs and Super Gran). These boards are woven, in a sense; a weave formed of both fabric and conductive metal fibres, the fibres replicating the circuits of a traditional circuit board. The fabric then serves as the mount, insulating those varied circuits and maintaining everything correctly in place.

If this sounds like wearing a circuit board, the electronic-boffins- come-couture-fashion-designers are assured that the resulting garments are actually rather snug and comfy. Not at all like donning a robotic shirt! They also claim the fabric circuit board is good to go right now, with any number of potential uses immediately apparent.

FCB clothing could host electronics, for instance, to create digital clothing. Biometric sensors could then be woven into your actual clothing rather than via your smart watch, and could be used for communications, or tracking your movements. Equally, FCB clothing could simply connect to other devices. And how about this for a use: solar panels on the shoulders of your jumper – rather like the patches of jumpers from the 1970s – that could then harness energy while you walk around outdoors. Why? Well for one you would never have to worry about losing the charge on your iPhone 6 ever again. Simply let the sun do the work for you!

As opposed to your iPhone 6, however, fabric circuit boards are obviously designed to be bent and stretched… even washed, for up to around 30 times (which we also wouldn’t advise you try with your phone). FCBs can also cope with being stretched and folded up to a million times, which is about the same number of times your mum folded your pants whilst you were growing up. And further – and something that probably didn’t happen to your Y-fronts – the inventors also wanted to see how the fabric coped with being shot. To that end, they wove it into a bullet point vest and it managed to take a couple for the team.

In fact, with this ability to be stretched, washed and shot, it is more than likely that the FCB element of any garment is more than likely to outlast the garment itself… unless you need it to make a bat suit. With graphene developments originating from Manchester, the Apple watch and more and more interest in curved displays (intended or not) and wearable electronics, this kind of technology might prove crucial.

Of course the issue, as with everything, is cost. If it costs £500 for a Marks & Spencers shirt woven with an integrated fabric circuit board… you may well prefer to wait until you get home to charge your bent iPhone 6…

 


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