A flexible battery that can be woven unobtrusively into fabrics has been developed by Canadian scientists.
Flat, flexible batteries have been connected to T-shirts sporting arrays of flashing LEDs, but they have not been built into the very stuff of a garment.
This is what Maksim Skorobogatiy and colleagues at the Polytechnic School of Montreal in Canada have just done.
In order to build their battery, they sandwich a solid polyethylene oxide electrolyte between a lithium iron phosphate cathode and lithium titanate anode. All of these are thermoplastic materials, which can be stretched under mild heating.
The material looks like artificial leather. After stretching, the team wove strips of it into cotton fabrics and used conductive threads to connect these batteries in series. This configuration was used to illuminate LEDs.
"It's the first fully wearable, soft lithium-ion battery that uses no liquid electrolytes," New Scientist quoted Skorobogatiy as saying.
He says a garment made of the material could provide hundreds of volts, enabling applications in which a battery-backed garment could deliver power in an emergency.
"We have enough power to emit a powerful distress signal or even save a life by defibrillating a patient," he stated.
The team's next step is to make the technology waterproof and washable.
Sandy Black, who researches smart textiles at the London College of Fashion, believes bags, backpacks and medical-monitoring garments could be first to use such technology.
"I think this whole area is reaching critical mass. Something mainstream cannot be too far away," Black said.