The problem with wearable sensors over the years has been one of durability. When repeatedly folded and bent, they developed micro-cracks that curtailed their conductivity.
Nothing a little red wine won’t fix. Or coffee. Or black tea.
The tannic acid present in those liquids was found by a team of scientists at the University of Manchester, England, to be crucial to improving the mechanical properties of wearables.
The team had previously used the same idea to develop artificial hands and capacitive breath sensors. Prior to the discovery of tannic acid as a useful tool in the creation of wearable technology, there had been many failures due to a lack of effective resources.
Tannic acid is the reason it is so difficult to remove red-wine stains from fabric: It firmly adheres to the material on the surface of the fiber. Such adhesion is, team leader Dr. Xuqing Liu, leader told Phys.org, “exactly what we need for durable, wearable, conductive devices.”
While scientists have been purchasing tannins to create these technological items, they tested fabrics by soaking them in coffee and black tea. They found that these liquids had the same effect on the fabrics that red wine did. This assured them that the adhesive properties of black coffee and tea are just as effective.
Using that knowledge, scientists are hopeful that in the near future they will be able to create wearable technology devices that are not only more comfortable but also longer-lasting and more cost-efficient.
Through the use of red wine, black tea and coffee, developers can create devices that, instead of being made of nylon, are made of cotton instead. The technology that is enabled by the use of tannic acid means that a device’s circuits will be attached to the surface of the fabric. This replaces the previous rigid circuit board with one that the wearer of the device isn’t even likely to notice.
While the technology industry is changing in many ways, wearable technology is among this and next year’s largest aspects. It has been predicted that sales of wearable technology around the world are set to reach a monetary value of $27 billion by 2022.
Yesterday’s wearable devices used conductive yarn. However, the coating on this material often peeled off, rendering it useless. Substituting tannic acid eliminates this problem.
Only time will tell what further research on this subject uncovers. But this latest breakthrough represents a quantum leap forward, in that it improves the durability of these widely used sensors. Moreover, it shows what can be accomplished through an outside-the-box approach — how a problem can be solved, if only it is approached from a different angle.