For all the talk about embedding computers in clothing, here’s an interesting option. Make the clothing the computer, and do it without electricity.
Mechanical engineers at Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering are trying the concept on for size with a set of textile-based pneumatic computers capable of digital logic, onboard memory and user interaction.
The lab’s “fluidic digital logic” takes advantage of how air flows through a series of “kinked” channels to form bits, the 1s and 0s in computer memories.
The idea is to have such textile-based logic gates support pneumatic actuators, potentially in conjunction with an energy harvesting system developed by the Preston lab, to help people with functional limitations with their day-to-day tasks.
The research backed by a recent National Science Foundation CAREER Award appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Preston said the lab’s logic-enabled textiles can be mass produced using existing clothes-manufacturing processes and are resilient enough to withstand everyday use. The researchers claimed the embedded gates are both comfortable and tough enough to drive a truck over without damaging them. (And they proved it.)
“The idea of using fluids to construct digital logic circuits is not new,” he said. “And in fact, in the last decade, people have been moving towards implementing fluidic logic in soft materials, things like elastomers. But so far, no one had taken the step to implement it in sheet-based materials, a feat which required redesigning the entire approach from first principles.”
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