Company develops conductive yarn for soldier uniforms

Apr 03, 2012 by Bob Yirka weblog

(PhysOrg.com) -- Modern military uniforms for servicemen from some countries such as those that serve Great Britain have evolved to the point that batteries and cables are needed for electronic devices that are carried; the problem with that of course is that cables are unwieldy and batteries are bulky, not to mention heavy. Both tend to get in the way of mobility, which is rather crucial for a soldier in battlefield conditions. To get rid of the cables, a company called Intelligent Textiles has come up with a type of yarn that can conduct electricity, which can be woven directly into the fabric of the uniform. And because they allow the uniform itself to become one large conductive unit, the need for multiple batteries can be eliminated as well.

The result, the company says in a recent demo of its products for Britain’s Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE), is a line of “e-textiles.” Besides the obvious problems with and batteries, a spokesman for the company said, there are issues with cables breaking. When that happens, equipment becomes useless. E-textiles on the other hand, because they have conductive material throughout the garment, don’t suffer from that problem because power can be routed through multiple channels. Thus if a portion of the material is cut or torn, power can still get to all of the pieces of equipment. And, for that same reason, the number of batteries can be cut down to just one, which means only one charge is necessary to run all of the equipment, and that can then be placed on the body where it will produce the least amount of stress.

The company says it has found a way to weave the conductive yarn into virtually all parts of the uniform: vest, shirt, backpack, helmet, even gloves or the interactive parts of weapons. Different pieces of the uniform can then be connected via plug-and-play connections when the soldier dresses for battle, though the company admits the connectors being used in the demo may have to be changed to prevent corrosion or rust. They say they are currently also working on a keyboard that can also be integrated into a uniform to allow for interaction with a small computer that will also be carried as part of the uniform.

Field trials are scheduled for next month and uniforms made with e-textiles are expected to begin being worn by actual soldiers over the next two years.

Up next will likely be separate channels woven into the uniform to carry data signals, allowing different pieces of equipment to communicate, making the uniform a central part of a system of components.

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More information: via BBC

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User comments : 10

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physyD
3.3 / 5 (7) Apr 03, 2012
Dumb question but wouldn't this fabric also make it easier to electrocute the soldier..?
baudrunner
3.3 / 5 (7) Apr 03, 2012
..or spot him using EM field detectors?
Modernmystic
3.3 / 5 (7) Apr 03, 2012
Or nullify the system entirely with an EM weapon?
Prbsolver
not rated yet Apr 03, 2012
Why not add some piezoelectric materials to the mix!!
TrinityComplex
5 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2012
@Prbsolver: They're working on it, but the competition for the best energy recovery system is still ongoing. It needs to be as efficient and light weight as possible, but do you add some weight for greater efficiency? How much resistance to the soldier's movement is acceptable? There are various programs investigating this (one looked at a knee brace type mechanism a couple years ago that was surprisingly efficient at recovering energy from walking).

The idea behind a uniform of this type would be to enhance a soldier's ability, not make them reliant on it. The critical parts (such as weapon and armor) are usually designed to work even if power is lost. They also want to make the materials light enought that it's not just a ton of dead weight if it malfunctions. They can also make some of the parts dual purpose. Some of those batteries can act as additional armor plating due to their density. If you're going to be carrying it anyway, make it do as much work as possible.
Prbsolver
not rated yet Apr 03, 2012
@Trinity
piezo shoes, Elbow/Knee pads not braces.. This would eliminate "extra work"
Has anyone thought about using the waste heat from the Weapon systems. Or converting the excess gas from the Carbine Rifles to usable power? Seems like in the heat of battle you could regain some power.
TrinityComplex
not rated yet Apr 04, 2012
What I saw looked like a brace, but that was just the look. The energy recovery took place at the joint on the brace when the knee was flexed and relaxed. That's not to say it couldn't be incorporated into a knee pad, but it was an early stage prototype. There may be better ways to do it. If some kind of piezoelectric thread could be used in the clothing any movement could be recovered, but how viable that is, how expensive, and can can current technology actually achieve that are all questions still being answered.

Using weapon heat would likely be possible, but impractical. Most soldiers spend very little time in combat, and anything you add to the weapon is going to make it weigh more. If you can find an extremely cheap and almost weightless method of doing so, fine, but it had better had zero chance of mucking up the weapon.
Prbsolver
not rated yet Apr 04, 2012
You do have some valid points..
How ever... How many solders use there electronic devices when not engaged in combat... Just seems silly you dont see the point..
ONCE IN COMBAT IT COULD EXTEND THE BATTERY LIFE...There for less likely to need so many CR123 Batteries "standard GI issued Batteries".
Like when they have no resupplies available, or for Special Ops in remote location Etc.
Prbsolver
not rated yet Apr 04, 2012
The brace you seen years ago was using the locomotion from the solder...
IE: as you walk, the braces create extra stress for the GI.
Elbow/knee Pads/Shoes/ Will not
TrinityComplex
not rated yet Apr 04, 2012
You're right, I'm not seeing the point. I'm not understanding what you're trying to say, other than adding systems that could potentially mess with, what most soldiers will tell you, is their most important tool besides their brain in combat: their weapons. As I said, if it can be added without much weight or risk of malfunction, go for it, but I'm not even talking about specific systems, with the exception of giving one of many examples that I happen to remember, not saying that it's the best option. I'm not picking a fight with you, but you seem intent on telling me I'm wrong about a point that I never even tried to make. Yes, the pads and shoes are good ideas, the question that I am not trying to answer, but saying is still up in the air, is 'Is it the best answer for the soldiers?'. Agencies like DARPA will decide that, not people posting on a science news site.