When will we wear clothes made with electronic textiles? Sooner than you think, according to this article from TechWeb News, which tells us that researchers at the University of California at Berkeley were able to "paint" flexible transistors on textile fibers.
"For the first time," said investigator Josephine Lee of the school's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, "we have demonstrated flexible organic TFTs formed on fibers...This technique is compatible with textile-manufacturing; this work therefore represents an important step towards the realization of a viable e-textile technology."
Lee said the transistors are literally painted on fibers and a shadowing technique -- placing vertical wires over horizontal wires and later removing the vertical wires -- creates patterning on the fabric. The process eschews traditional lithography and semiconductor processes.
Lee works with Professor Vivek Subramanian and his Organic Electronics Group. She said that more work needs to be done before electronic textiles become mainstream.
[However,] the next step is to actually "weave" organic semiconductors onto fabric -- a development she believes can be reached in a year or so.
Besides the "weaving" process, other problems need to be solved.
[They] include improving the mechanical durability of the semiconductor components to the point where fabrics can be flexed and bent easily, making them washable. Organic semiconductor technology utilizes solution processing, which, Lee says, is by definition very much cheaper than traditional semiconductor processes that require expensive equipment and clean rooms.
The research results were presented last week in Washington, D.C., at the 2003 IEEE International Electron Devices (IEDM).
Here is the abstract of the presentation, "Organic transistors on fibers: A first step towards electronic textiles."
For the first time, we demonstrate organic transistors formed on fibers. This represents a significant step towards the realization of electronics textiles. Patterning is achieved via shadowing from over-woven fibers, eliminating the need for lithography. The process is therefore compatible with textile manufacturing, making it promising for scalable e-textile fabrication.
Sources: W. David Gardner, TechWeb News, December 15, 2003; and various websites