Your Next Wearable May Not Need Electricity

What if you could unlock a door with your shirtsleeve, or code a secret message into your tie? This could soon be a thing, because researchers at the University of Washington have created a fabric that can store data without any electronics whatsoever.  The fabric can be washed, dried, and even ironed without losing data. Oh, and it’s way cheaper than RFID.

By harnessing the ferromagnetic properties of conductive thread, [Justin Chen] and [Shyam Gollakota] have  proved the ability to store bit strings and 2D images through magnetization. The team used an embroidery machine to lay down thread in dense strips and patches, and then coded in ones and zeros by rubbing the threads with N and S neodymium magnets.

They didn’t use anything special, either, just this conductive thread, some magnets, and a Nexus 5 to read the data. Any phone with a magnetometer (so, most of them) could decode this type of binary data. The threads stay reliably magnetized for about a week and then begin to weaken. However, their tests proved that the threads can be re-magnetized over and over.

The team also created 2D images with magnets on a 9-patch made of conductive fabric. The images can be decoded piecemeal by a single magnetometer, or all at once by an array of them. Finally, the team made a glove with a magnetized patch of thread on the fingertip. They were able to get the phone to recognize six unique gestures with 90% accuracy, even with the phone tucked away in a pocket. See it in action in their demo video after the break.

Magnetic memory is certainly not a new concept. But for the wearable technology frontier, it’s a novel one.

Via [ScienceDaily]

9 thoughts on “Your Next Wearable May Not Need Electricity

    1. Only if they can see magnetism. You’d have to get close to read the field, that itself is a security benefit. You’d probably notice someone waving magnetometers around your sleeve, even if it’s a mobile phone.

      That said, I dunno if this is going to go anywhere. The data density is very low, the magnetism is short-lived, just doesn’t seem like a new thing anyone needs, or something that does a better job than any existing thing.

  1. I’ve already worked with embedded μcontrollers that leech enegry off of wifi… yeah through induction.
    It is also not able to work under a certain signal threshold, don’t remember how many dBms, but within logical bounds in the same room.
    that’s what I thought about the article, when reading the title and biting the cheap click bait I realized how you got me fooled.

    anyhow, any of the aforementioned techniques in the article are way too old to be taken as something amazing, it’s plain magnetized wire.
    -B…but it’s made on conductive thread.
    You mean like the ones they use for centuries to decorate clothes or knit it?

    Now, do you know what’s amazing? Electronics that work using the surrounding EM noise.
    I could knit 2 connected coils and open an e-lock at my work but that’s a job for grandmas in 2200 A.C..

    P.S.: What’s you full surname? Panagopoulos, Panagiotopoulos, Panopoulos, or something else?

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.