Traditionally, textile sensors are made with electronic sensing components that are mounted onto the textile. We have demonstrated four types of textile sensors that can be manufactured directly with carefully designed knitting, structured with conductive yarns. The knitted stitches become the building blocks for the construction of different sensing mechanisms, allowing for the design of the textiles and sensors together in one process.
Material: SensorKnits uses commercially available conductive and dielectric yarn. The materials are scalable beyond lab experiments.
Structure: SensorKnits focuses on the design of special knitting structures that give the knit textile the ability to sense material deformation.
Process: SensorKnits considers the construction of sensor and textile as one process, rather than separately.
There are various core differences between machine knitting sensors, and stacking conductive material on knits. First, machine knitting provides a way to mass produce textiles. Second, it allows the designer to use computer-aided design tools in the making of textiles, allowing a faster iteration on the work. We still appreciate hand-crafted knits, and the truly unique and emotional value that these pieces hold—maybe in the future, more of us will be using computers to knit scarves for our loved ones!
The knit sensors are made with commercially available yarn; after fabrication they feel similar to regular fabric.
Knit sensors contain silver-coated yarn, which has a very thin film of silver deposited on it. Given the quantities of silver used, it’s unlikely to set off metal detectors.
Over time, washing will likely impact the performance of the sensors, though further testing is required to know the minimum number of washes before malfunction. An automatic re-calibration of the sensors could be developed to fine-tune the sensing mechanisms after every wash.
1. Wearable devices: As we have demonstrated in the project video, we can construct a safety light that can be seamlessly integrated into a backpack using a knitted rheostat. This variable resistor allows the control of the lamp’s brightness through a linear mechanism. As such, the predominant collection of user interfaces, faders, knobs, and spinning wheels could be integrated within textiles, whether in clothing, furniture or the numerous types of fabrics used within vehicles.
2. Smart interiors: Knitted textiles are commonly used in interior design and decoration. Knit sensors can create smart furniture or decorative pieces that are both aesthetically pleasing and functional.
3. Apparel: Knitted apparel can adopt knitting sensor technology to create on-body sensors to can assist, for example, athletes, patients, and musicians: a patient’s clothing could have respiration sensors integrated right into the fabric, rather that having to wear an external strap which is often cumbersome and uncomfortable.
Mark Weiser, a noted pioneer of ubiquitous computing, said that “[t]he most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” This insight truly resonates with our vision, and our research team is honored to adopt Weiser’s philosophy in the making of this project.
Since the knit sensors are created on various industrial knitting machines, it could be easily adapted within the garment industry.
The beauty of this work is that it was done on exactly the same digital knitting machines used for the mass manufacturing of textiles. As a result, any sensor developed in this way can be produced at scale.
The Media Lab has a history of pioneering work in the fields of embedded sensing and e-textiles. SensorKnits expands on prior work in a number of new areas including:
Methodology: Prior research in smart textiles followed “patching” paradigms, where sensors and textiles were constructed in different processes, and then sewed, glued, or stacked together as one piece. We consider knitted stitches as macroscale building blocks for controlling the electrical properties of textiles. Utilizing the versatility of machine knitting, we can create a wide range of geometries that enable various textile sensing modalities.
Process: Digital knitting allows for the mass production of textiles. Embedding digital knitting machines with special conductive thread allows for the mass production of smart textiles. The application of these types of manufacturing techniques to knitting sensors resembles other novel concepts of additive manufacturing.
SensorKnits is currently an academic research project and is not available for purchase. We are exploring industrial collaborations that may enable this work to become commercialized.
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Check out our research paper; we include our knitting patterns for making the sensor. We also provide information on where to find conductive yarn.
Our abrasion test shows that this is not a problem. The tests are included in the publication.
Yes, you can view the video here.
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