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Dyeing Fabric To Create Sensors

Fabrics with electrical functionality have been around for several years, but are very rarely used in mainstream clothing. The fabrics are very expensive and the supply can be unreliable. Frustrated by this, [Counter Chemists] developed PolySense, simple open-source technology to make any fibrous material into a conductive material that can be used to sense pressure, stretch, capacitive touch, humidity, or temperature.

PolySense uses a process called in-situ polymerization, effectively dying a fabric to become piezoelectric. This is done by first soaking the fabric in a mixture of water and the organic compound pyrrole, and then adding iron chloride to trigger a reaction. The polymerization process that takes place wraps the individual fibers of the fabric in conductive polymer chains.

Instead of just uniformly coating a fabric, various masking techniques can be used to dye patterns onto the fabric for various use cases. The video after the break shows a range of these applications, including using polymerized gloves and leggings for motion capture, a zipper that acts like a linear potentiometer, and touch-sensitive fabric. The project page lists sources for the required chemicals in both Europe and the US, and we look forward to seeing what other applications the community can come up with.

The project is very well documented, with a number of scientific papers covering all the details. [Counter Chemists] will also be presenting PolySense at the 2020 Virtual Maker Faire.

This technology can also be used to make a fabric piano with a lot less effort. On the more mechanical side of things, you can also 3D print on pre-stretched fabric to make it pop into 3D shapes.

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