One of the major challenges faced by e-textile and smart wearable developers lies in their ability to be conveniently cleaned without damage to the circuitry and power supply. The need for easy cleaning is especially true when e-textiles and wearables are intended to support athletic activities or monitor the health of individuals.
Most e-textiles use snap-on electronics combined with a removable battery pack that must be removed before the garment can be washed, but that is inconvenient for users and risks the durability of the circuitry and components that provide functionality.
A New Approach to Manufacturing Smart Wearables
Powercast Corporation, the leader in RF-based long-range over-the-air wireless power technology, and Liquid X, an advanced manufacturer of functional metallic inks with prototype-to-production design and manufacturing capabilities, are partnering together for a printed electronics venture. Their goal is straightforward: enable garment manufacturers to easily integrate wireless power functionality into e-textiles that are flexible, durable, high performance, and washable.
Durable smart wearables that can be wirelessly recharged and easily washed are being made possible through Powercast's far-field power over distance technology and Liquid X's proprietary metallic inks and additive manufacturing. Image Credit: Powercast Company.
Far-Field Power-Over-Distance and Metallic Inks
In this partnership, Powercast is providing its own RF-based wireless power and battery technology which will be combined with the proprietary ink of Liquid X, which allows manufacturers to print circuitry directly onto a garment.
Powercast’s speciality lies in far-field (up to 80 feet) power-over-distance innovations that reduce or altogether eliminate the need for batteries and allow devices to be charged or powered without connectors and wires. Liquid X is able to combine its proprietary metallic inks with electronic components via additive manufacturing techniques.
Once the battery and circuitry are sealed using a cost-effective manufacturing method, the resulting e-textile will support battery-powered features such as LED-based illumination, health and wellness applications, or movement monitoring.
How It Works
Powercasts’s Powerharvester® RF wireless power receiver chip, RF wireless receiving antenna, and battery, along with other components, are mounted onto circuitry printed directly onto the material using Liquid X proprietary particle-free metallic ink. Once printing and mounting on the garment are complete, the circuit is encapsulated with high performance, waterproof bond that will seal the electronics into the e-textile.
The embedded battery is wirelessly charged by placing the garment in close proximity to a Powercast RF transmitter, which can be placed in a closet or drawer where the smart wearable will be stored. This makes the process of re-charging very simple and hassle-free while also extending the usefulness and durability of smart wearables.
At CES in January 2020, Powercast and Liquid X demonstrated a wirelessly rechargeable smart athletic shirt prototype that combined embedded power harvesting with printed circuitry. The embedded LEDs on the prototype shirt were successfully illuminated by wireless power transmission from up to 10 feet away.
Circuitry and electronics such as LED lights are directly integrated into fabrics using the combined technology of Powercast and Liquid X. Image Credit: Powercast Company.
By improving the manufacture and design of durable, washable e-textiles, Powercast and Liquid X are supporting the further integration of smart wearables into everyday life. This also extends the potential applications of e-textiles while supporting key industries such as health, fitness, personal safety, telecommunications, and entertainment. It also supports research into new ways to power wearables, such as energy harvesting and stretchable batteries.
A Promising Partnership
The partnership between Powercast and Liquid X holds great promise, and not just for the e-textile industry. By developing a way to cost-effectively manufacture and seal embedded, wirelessly-powered circuitry on fabrics, their work is supporting the development of even more innovative and practical smart wearables.