Chipmaker Infineon says it has seen "huge" interest from the textile industry in its wearable computing technology, paving the way for everything from identification chips to MP3 players that can be built into ordinary fabrics.
Infineon's technology, first announced in April as the culmination of two years of research, allows for microprocessors, sensors and connectors to be integrated into ordinary fabrics that can be washed or dry-cleaned, according to the company. "We did a lot of tests. We used washing machines, we also ironed it," said spokesman Reiner Schoenrock. "It is durable."
Since Infineon gave the first demonstrations, more than 200 textile manufacturers have stepped up to find out about using the technology in their products. "They're coming to us and saying, 'We were waiting for this'," Schoenrock said.
As a result, Infineon believes its first wearable products could be ready in a year, and could be in mass production in two years. The company could not name specific partners, as it is still in negotiations.
The first application is likely to be a device that worries some privacy advocates: RF ID chips, which can store up to 4,000 characters and be used for identifying everything from towels to individuals. Infineon estimates a wearable RF ID chip will cost about 30 to 50 euro cents, and could be an easy way for clothing manufacturers to identify legitimate merchandise.
Infineon's innovation is its packaging technology, which wraps copper wires in silver and then in polyester, insulating the electronics. The dense computing electronics must also be woven into the relatively loose weave of the fabric. "Infineon is the first company to come up with a package that completely integrates electronics into textiles," Schoenrock said.
The most sophisticated prototype Infineon has created is a 3cm-square MP3 player, controlled by a 5mm x 5mm chip, that is woven into a jacket. The 8g unit uses a small battery and a multimedia card (MMC), but is otherwise invisible to the user, all its functions being controlled by voice commands.
Infineon said the MP3 player would cost about 10 euros to manufacture and would take three to four years to emerge as a product.
The company said that any of its microprocessor products, which include chips for GPS, Bluetooth, automobile sensors, GSM or 3G phones and keyless entry systems, could be built into fabrics.
"You could integrate these keyless chips into the fabric of a jacket, and transmit your personal information to the people next to you in a disco, and it could say whether this person would be a good fit for you," Schoenrock said. "Why not? It could be a blockbuster."
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