‘Smart’ Fabrics Work like Appliances

‘Smart’ Fabrics Work like Appliances


Novelist John Jurek published a mystery, “KaeLF Skin,” last fall featuring “smart fabric” underwear that can pleasure, addict, injure and even kill the wearer. As it happens, the fiction isn’t all that far from the truth.

The first generation of garments that couple nanotechnology — the science of making electronics on the tiniest of atomic scales — with high-tech fabrics to create “smart clothing” is beginning to roll out.

Motorola Inc. is working on developing clothing that can “talk” to washing machines, giving instructions on how the garments should be washed. Chemicals giant DuPont Co. and textiles concern Burlington Industries Inc. also see potential for a huge new market in clothing that looks like the same old thing but functions more like an appliance.

On the horizon: Expanding the waistline of your pants with a push of a button. Adjusting the color of a sweater from blue to green to match a favorite skirt. Tracking a wandering child through a global-positioning system woven into his jacket collar. Clothing a baby in sleepwear that sounds an alarm if breathing stops.

Last year, Burlington, of Greensboro, N.C., paid just under $10 million for a 51 percent stake in Nano-Tex Inc., a company using nanotechnology to engineer fabric that resists wrinkles and stays drier.