Smart carpet can spot fires, steer feet and sell beer

That's what we call a magic carpet

That's what we call a magic carpet

German chipmaker Infineon has unveiled an electronic textile that can make floors, walls and even building columns part of a building's security, maintenance or climate-control system. The textile contains a weave of conductive fibre studded with sensor chips and LEDs (light emitting diodes). After being fitted to a floor and hooked up to a power source and a computer, the electronic carpet becomes "aware" of the position of each sensor chip, said the chipmaker. "Each chip communicates via a self-learning and self-organising network with its immediate neighbour and uses a software algorithm to ascertain its own position," according to Infineon. Among its uses: Visitors can be guided by following a breadcrumb trail of LEDs; pressure sensors can detect intruders; temperature sensors can detect a fire while the LEDs mark out an escape route. A few dead chips are not a problem, says the firm. "If an element within the network is faulty, the chips automatically search for new ways in order to maintain the communication." As with its smart clothing, the "smart carpet" - the term used by Infineon - is for now just a demonstration product, with commercial applications still years away. Werner Weber, senior director of the emerging technologies division at Infineon, said it will take "two years to produce a fully functional and intelligent woven material that could be used to cover a wide area". Other uses for a smart textile include embedding it into concrete walls and columns to monitor stress, giving building inspectors an inside view of a building's health. Finally, the fabric can be stretched over an airship, with the LEDs made to blink out advertising messages, according to Infineon. John Lui writes for CNETAsia