May 23, 2018 | Matthew B. Boyd

Related Articles


Explore materials, technologies, design, and manufacturing in the life sciences.



Outlook for Wearables and Smart Textiles


Advances in smart electronics have already produced a number of devices that are currently on the market. Textile manufacturers brought sensor-based smart wearables to the market, mainly for the collection of bio-data (heart rate, body temperature, etc.) and use in workplace safety. 


Demand for Wearable Textiles

report published by IDTechEx in November of 2017 detailed their coverage of the wearable technology ecosystem. Titled Wearable Technology 2017-2027: Markets, Players, Forecasts, it covers 41 product categories across many industry verticals. Based on analysis and coverage of wearable electronics and associated topics, this report contains profiles of 90 companies and interviews with many of the largest, most innovative and disruptive players in the industry. Their research informed the predictions and forecasts for the coming decade, giving insight for the future direction of smart textiles. Increasing demand for wearable electronics is seen across industries, such as:

  • Medical and healthcare monitoring and diagnostics
  • Consumer electronics (smart watches, smart glasses, headsets, etc.)
  • Sportswear and fitness monitoring (bands and belts)
  • Smart apparel and footwear (in fashion and sport)
  • Military GPS trackers, equipment (helmets), and boots
  • Workplace safety and manufacturing

The use of the textile itself as a smart device presents a significant advancement with advantages over watches and wristbands with regards to long-term use.


Research and Development in Smart Textiles

Researchers have created and demonstrated wearable thermoelectric generators that can harvest energy from body heat to power simple biosensors for measuring heart rate, respiration, and other factors.



Working with flexible conducting polymers and circuitry patterns printed on paper, they created devices that can be cut to size as needed to provide the voltage and power requirements for various applications. Another advantage of these modular generators is that they can be printed via inkjet onto flexible substrates like fabric, and manufactured inexpensively using roll-to-roll techniques. The research ongoing is aimed at developing devices that are flexible, have greater contact with the skin of the wearer, non-toxic, and have a lower internal resistance which results in a higher power output.


The Future of Commercial Wearables

"We want to integrate our device into the commercial textiles that people wear every day," says Akanksha Menon, a Ph.D. student in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He wants people to feel comfortable wearing these fabrics, while having the ability to power something just using their body heat.

Some of the challenges with this are:

  • determining how close to the skin the generators should be to transfer thermal energy
  • protecting the generators from moisture
  • maintaining wearer comfort 

On other fronts, from the lab of City College of New York, comes a groundbreaking development of smart textiles with the ability to rapidly detect and neutralize nerve gas. Chemical engineer Teresa J. Bandosz has created a fabric consisting of a cotton support modified with Cu-BTC MOF/oxidized graphitic carbon nitride composites. In laboratory testing, she demonstrated a detoxification process with accompanying visible color change. Bandosz claims this can be used for selective detection of chemical warfare agents and to monitor penetration into a protective layer.

While graphene-based wearable e-textiles are predicted to be a $5 billion market by 2027, challenges to manufacturing them on an industrial scale are still an impediment. Research is ongoing for a cost-effective way to scale up for the potential real-life applications such as sportswear, medical clothing, and military gear.



One newer method reverses the existing process of coating textiles with graphene-based materials. First it reduces the graphene oxide in solution, and then coats the textiles with the reduced form. Researchers have demonstrated that e-textiles produced with this technique exhibited excellent electrical and mechanical characteristics. Tests also showed the reduced graphene oxide formed a uniform coating around individual cotton fibers, resulting in good tensile strength, breathability, electrical conductivity, flexibility, and overall comfort. It also stood up to repeated machine washing cycles and performed as new. 



The wearables and smart textile marketplaces are expected to continue to grow. New innovations in materials are expected to help drive growth in the medical, consumer, and military industries as the IoT becomes a ubiquitous part of everyday life. 


Explore materials, technologies, design, and manufacturing in the life sciences.


Articles & Resources

Our articles and resources explore materials, technologies, design, and manufacturing in the life sciences. Together we're advancing biomedical innovation through curiosity and shared knowledge. 


Video Series

Boyd Biomedical Design Stories explores what it takes to commercialize biomedical innovations in a modern susteainable way. A way that's the best way - for patients, practitioners, and all of us - as we seek to advance healthcare together. 


Documentary Film

Project Frontline is a feature length documentary film which tells the inspiring story of collaboration during crisis and is a cautionary tale about our leadership in innovation, advanced manufacturing, and supply chain resilience.