Trending science: Clothes get cooler thanks to Finnish technology

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Researchers in Finland have developed new technology that could allow us to control the temperature of our clothing and introduce a new era of ‘smart clothing’.

Researchers at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland announced last week that they have developed a new high-volume production method for ‘hot embossing microscopic channel structures onto large areas of plastic film’. What does this have to do with clothing? Well, the technology can be applied in wearable technology. One of VTT’s goals is to engineer a smart fabric adjustable with a mobile app for controlling the wearer’s temperature.

The new method means that microchannels can be produced on large areas of plastic film in a short time. This allows for the development of ‘smart clothing’ where temperature is controlled by pumping cold or hot liquid through the network of microchannels. Essentially, VTT says that the smart fabric could provide ‘air conditioning’ for the wearer – adjustable with a mobile app. This could be particularly useful to consumers in the future as climate change looks set to bring more extreme weather events.

Smart clothing and beyond

The applications go beyond attire however, as Ralph Liedert from VTT explained in a press release, ‘Minuscule microfluidic channels can be compared to the cardiovascular system, for example. This gave us the idea for other applications of our new method in addition to diagnostics, such as heating or cooling channels for clothing, or the storage and transport of substances that are only needed in small volumes (perfumes and fragrances) or that are very expensive (medicine).’

VTT says that the channels can be embedded either into hard or soft plastics, depending on the purpose of use. For example, the feel and shape of a soft and elastic plastic film is better suited for integration into a coat compared to rigid plastics, which in turn are better suited for application in card format, such as a handy travel perfume dispenser that is the size of a credit card. Other possible uses of the thin cards include very precise dosing of medicine or serving strong spices in restaurants.

HNGN reports that the VTT technology may also be the basis of another wearable system, which is a portable air freshener that can release controlled amounts of perfume, potentially using an app or pre-programmed algorithm.

The researchers are now looking for partners within sports, outdoor recreation, wearable technology and the cosmetics industry for the commercialisation of this new technology.