Automotive 'smart fabric' let's you control your car like a smartphone

Carmakers could never have anticipated all their fiddly nobs, buttons and dials might be replaced by smart fabric seat covers. The idea of controlling your radio volume with the same sort of swipe used to control your smartphone would have been like something out of Back to the Future. Now, it is almost a reality.

Researchers from the Polytechnic School in Montreal, Canada have created a soft polymer-based fiber you weave into fabrics; the fiber has electrical properties that change depending on where touched. They roll conducting and insulating film covers around copper wires that create a cylindrical capacitor. The cylinders are then heated to 200 degrees Celsius and it is stretched until it is a pliable fiber 0.9 millimeters wide.

That's a fancy way of saying they are fine enough to be woven into fabrics.

The team wove the fibers into a roughly two inch by one and a half inch square. When touched or swiped, it changed the ability of the fabric to store a charge. It means that these finger movements can be logged and used to control the radio, the A/C and who knows what else?

"In essence we are trying to reproduce the smartphone experience in textile form," says researcher Maksim Skorobogatiy of the Polytechnic School in Montreal, Canada. "We are looking for applications where we can weave in sleek, non-invasive control, avoiding blocks of push buttons."

Not only is the functionality of the material perfect for a tap and swish world, it is also easily cleaned. That's pretty important to consider in such high usage fabrics as car seats - it wouldn't be worth it one trip through the drive through wrecked the whole thing.

It might not be long until we see the touch fabric roll out in future car models - BMW is reportedly interested.

Who knows? The fabric may have other applications like smart (and practical) clothing which could operate our phones or iPods, or couch coverings that let us control our entertainment systems.

The possibilities seem endless.

Via New Scientist

Photo credit: iStock

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