Switches from Stitches
Photograph by Cary Wolinsky
Seven-year-old Jessica May Knight surfs channels with a prototype "zapper cushion," a pillow made with flaps of touch-sensitive fabric that works as a TV remote control. A combination of high-tech electronics and old-school weaving, the single-layered textile, called Detect, can locate and measure pressure on its interwoven conductive fibers. Other potential applications for the washable fabric include clothing able to assess athletic performance, hospital linens that prevent bedsores, and smart upholstery in cars that ensures airbags inflate properly in a crash. "So much of our environment is already swathed in fabric," says engineer Stan Swallow, who, with textile expert Asha Peta Thompson, developed Detect at Britain's Brunel University. "We'll be hiding the implements of technology in the bits of fabric you'd be carrying around anyway."