You could soon be able to wear your password on your sleeve – quite literally – thanks to the efforts of a University of Washington research team. Under the leadership of Shyam Gollakota, the researchers have devised a way to encode digital data such as security keys and ID tags into clothing using electrically-conductive threads that are woven into the garments invisibly.
Magnetising the threads is all it takes to activate the digital code, which can then be read using magnetometers. Some of the data they’ve been able to encode includes 2D images and strings of passwords.
The researchers used ordinary sewing machines to embroider fabric using commercial conductive thread. It can be worn as a belt, tie, necklace, wristband or patch on the shirt’s cuff. Magnets are rubbed against the fabric to make a pattern of negative and positive polarity that corresponds to the 1s and 0s seen in digital data.
Safe to iron, wash and dry
Gollakota says that the fabric can be thought of as being a hard disk in the sense that it gives your clothes the ability to store data. Best of all, its electronic-free design means it’s safe to iron the garment and put it in the washer or dryer; the magnetic signal can withstand temperatures of as high as 320 degrees Fahrenheit.
The data is read by waving the magnetised fabric in front of magnetometers. It can also be read by smartphones, which contain magnetometers. The researchers made a glove with magnetised fingertip patches to showcase this ability. While wearing the gloves, the phone could recognise the gestures they made from inches away.
Although the fabric’s signal strength does weaken over time, it can be repeatedly remagnetised and reprogrammed. Next, the UW team is hoping to develop customised textiles capable of creating stronger magnetic fields and storing data in higher densities.