The smart fabric trend is definitely one of the coolest things to happen to knitting in a very long time. Smart fabrics, also called soft circuits or eTextiles, are fabrics and textiles with electronics incorporated into them. Electronics—like LEDs and batteries—can be hand-sewn into a nonconductive textile, or the whole textile can be woven or knit using conductive thread.
By using these soft circuits, you can make some really awesome stuff, like light-up clothing and touchscreen gloves. However, they can also be used for more utilitarian applications. Soft circuits are used in electromagnetic shielding and for antistatic and heating purposes. BMW will be using touch sensitive fabrics in cars. NASA is developing spacesuits made of smart fabrics so that they can monitor astronauts’ vitals while in space. Most recently, Design Research Lab in Berlin has announced a conceptual project for SmartSenior—a project funded by the German Government—called Knit Alarm.
Knit Alarm is a wearable medical alarm built into a cardigan (custom designed for the wearer). When the wearer pulls on the cuff or touches the cuff to her chest, a Bluetooth signal is sent to a smartphone and an emergency call is placed to a chosen contact. LEDs embedded into the shoulder of the cardigan light-up to indicate that the alarm has been activated. Not only is Knit Alarm unobtrusive and functional, it’s also cute and fashionable!
If you’d like to start making your own soft circuits, here are a few links to projects for inspiration:
Knit Alarm Photos by Design Research Lab