As wearables become more integrated into our lives they will also get woven into our fabrics. But for electronic textiles to be realistic, they need to be really durable and most importantly washable. Researchers at the Institute of Textiles and Clothing at Hong Kong Polytechnic University have come one step closer to making that a reality with their fabric circuit boards. Copper wire was woven along with yarn to create a highly stretchable fabric that when tested could withstand millions of stretches along with multiple washes and even bullet impacts without losing its electrical properties. This type of advancement could have major implications for not only wearable technology, but also huge life-saving advantages for those in the military and police.

Researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University led by Xiao-Ming Tao have engineered a fabric circuit board (FCB) with integrated copper wiring and circuitry that can flex, stretch, be shot at and go through repeated washes without loosing its electrical integrity. The textile was made with pre-stretched elastic yarn and polyurethane-coated copper fibers that were combined using a digital knitting machine.

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Tests showed that the textile could be stretched about a million times before any of the fiber failed. It could also cleaned in a normal washing machine in warm water for 30 washes without damage and also dried. Then the fabric was placed behind a Kevlar vest and shot at with bullets. While not bullet-proof, despite the impacts, the fabric was not harmed and continued to function normally.

Electronic fabric like this could be integrated into armed forces vests to alert commanders when an individual has been shot and could be used to help save lives.

“Washability is a big plus for e-textile circuits, as is durability of the embedded conductors,” says Lucy Dunne, a wearable technology expert at the University of Minnesota in St Paul. “And as stretchable fabrics are increasingly common in everyday clothing, a conductor that isn’t affected by stretching will improve both comfort and aesthetics.”

[Via New Scientist]