Combining technical know-how in textiles with progressive applications in the polymerisation and electronics world has become a priority for the Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand (WRONZ), WRONZ EuroLab’s Smart Textile Innovation Centre and Softswitch Ltd in the United Kingdom. 

LincLab Australia, an Australian subsidiary of WRONZ, is committed to spreading the word nationally to enable local manufacturers to tap into the potential of Smart Textiles technology.

According to LincLab’s General Manager Jules Dorrian, Softswitch applications include wearable electronics, intelligent interior surfaces, flexible computer interfaces, musical keyboards and industrial applications such as pressure monitoring.

Jules says WRONZ was set up 40 years ago in New Zealand to develop new opportunities for the New Zealand wool industry. Since then they have diversified their activities and one such direction is Softswitch Ltd which is a joint venture between WRONZ and Peratech Ltd.

The Smart Textiles Innovation Centre of WRONZ EuroLab Ltd based in Ilkley in the UK is working on many other ‘intelligent’ textiles, with some of these using Soft-switch as an enabling solution.

LincLab Australia is a marketing, management and facilitation group that works with Australian companies interested in integrating intelligent textiles and fibres into their product ranges.

WRONZ has a textile background rather than an electronics background, which enables it to focus on the aesthetics and durability of their products.

Softswitch utilises quantum tunnelling composite materials integrated into textile materials to create pressure sensing and switch devices.

Softswitch fabrics are washable and flexible. They can interface directly with electronic devices without the need for signal processing or complex software. Devices can be operated remotely.

Sensors have been developed for upholstery, carpets, wall coverings and soft furnishings to control lighting, for security applications, temperature control and other electronic devices. 

Jules says LincLab is now working towards facilitating the integration of this technology with manufacturers in Australia.

She says Softswitch technology will soon be used in a variety of applications:

• Computer games – controls can be built into garments or ‘mouse gloves’ to allow hand gestures to be used to input to a PC or a Playstation.

• Medical and health care – pressure sensing gauges can be built into medical textiles.

• Automotive industry – fabric switches and pressure monitors are being prototyped for a multitude of operations within vehicles.

Burton Snowboards in the US released the first commercial product incorporating the new technology in 2002. In a limited release the Analog Clone MD jacket allows snowboard riders to control an inbuilt Sony walkman mini-disc system by using touch sensitive buttons on its sleeve. The jacket can be machine-washed once disconnected from the MD player and headphones.

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