Perhaps the latest smart textile revolution is the integration of nanotechnology into textile development. Nanotechnology is the study and application of science and technology at the nanoscale, which is comparable to the size of 1 atom. Engineering at the molecular scale is a fairly new technology (as of approximately 30 years ago), and has since been applied to many fields of study. The application of nano-engineering to textiles has been hailed as not only the technology that is going to revolutionize the garments we wear every day, but some going so far as to say that certain applications will be the first interactive smart textile. The use of nanotechnology in the textile industry allows for the development of textiles with enhancements to their properties, and even creates fabric hybrids with completely new and more advanced properties. The possibilities of nanotextiles are infinite based on the fact that this technology can be engineered to do anything.
Despite the promise and infinite potential of these new textiles, widespread and accessible nanotextiles are still on the horizon. This is mainly due to the lack of research and current weakness of the integration method of nanotechnology and the fabric. In initial development processes of nanotextiles, a coat of nanoparticles rests on top of the fabric, giving it the engineered enhancement. This coating works to make the fabric anything from an antimicrobial to antistatic, flame retardant to fluid repellant (just to name a few of the most basic nanotechnology examples).
The issue with the methods of combining technology and textile is that there is not yet complete assimilation of the two. The nanoparticle coating does not stay congealed to the fabric for more than one wear, and can be fairly easily washed or rubbed away. However, a recent development from a collaborative team of researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Korea University have produced a film of silver nanowires that is printed at high speed onto the fabic, making it very durable and able to withstand multiple washes. This new technology aims to be integrated into roll up touchscreen displays on textiles and flexible solar cells for energy production and gathering (read more here!).
The lack of accessibility is also due to the lack of research of the effect on the wearer after prolonged exposure to nanotechnology, and whether a nanotextile will maintain biocompatibility. Nanotextiles with different functions must each run their own individual tests, and due to the fact that nanotechnology can be engineered to do almost anything, fabrics can interact with the wearer in different ways.
The end goal of nanotextiles is complete integration of the technology in both the textile and our lives – the nanotechnology could be woven together with a synthetic polymer, and from there, fibers can be woven directly into the textile. This would also eliminate all battery packs, wires, and sensors that come along with most smart textile applications. The versatility of this technology are truly endless, and have already promised to breathe a new life into the textile industry.