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Fashion meets fiction, clothes with IQ?

A keyboard up the sleeve, a computer in the pocket, a tiny screen inside a set of spectacles, are no longer scifi stuff.

india Updated: Feb 09, 2006 15:43 IST

A keyboard up the sleeve, a computer in the jacket pocket and a tiny screen inside a set of spectacles - this is no longer just the stuff of science fiction books as textiles become "intelligent", offering exciting possibilities in the fields of medicine and sports.

Professor Alexander Buesgen of the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences is developing these "intelligent" clothes with his team in this German city - northwest of the Football World Cup city of Cologne.

A pair of light grey stockings, which Buesgen calls "the socks", offers a highlight - the battery-powered electronics maintain a constant temperature and can protect diabetics from hypothermia. They can help diabetics who suffer from distorted temperature senses.

The possibilities are almost boundless. Electronic sensors in the material of an undershirt, for example, can transmit the skin's surface tension to a pocket computer and provide comfortable long-term ECG readings.

"We still have to develop a shirt which fits snugly to the body over long periods of time," Buesgen explains. Unlike current methods using sensors and pads taped to the skin, this way a patient's heartbeats can be monitored - for weeks or months at a time.

"Anyone who has suffered a heart attack would love to be able to see warning signals of a possible second one well ahead of time," said the 46-year-old.

The days of looms producing material by the metre are long gone. Nowadays, machines are making customized seat-covers for motorcycles in four and a half minutes - out of carbon fibres.

"Our 3-D technology brings the fabric into the correct form right away," said a scientist.

He shows a square piece of rigid cloth, from which a semicircle bulges out of the middle. Using resin, a protection helmet is created similar to those on construction sites.

The advantage: its lighter weight. "When a helmet is worn eight hours a day, then 20 grams make a big difference."

A total of 15 scientists from the fields of physics, chemistry, electronics, textile and design are busy working on the refinement of various surfaces.

One of the key words in these processes is nanotechnology - dealing with miniscule parts. Such particles, for example, make awnings, tablecloths and shoes sturdy against rubbing as well as water, dirt and grease resistant.

Such developments could also benefit the world of sports.

The heart centre in Wuppertal is taking part in research work by testing the textiles on patients like German international footballer Gerald Asamoah, who suffers from innate heart defects.

Whenever the Schalke 04 forward plays, a doctor is on the sidelines with a defibrillator for an emergency.

"I could imagine that someone like Asamoah at one time will wear a sensor shirt during a game which can then give alarm if the data are unexpected," Buesgen said.

But it's too early for the 2006 World Cup though. The undershirt won't be ready for another two to three years.

First Published: Feb 09, 2006 10:59 IST