Latest ‘SOFT’ textiles use built-in sensors that could save your life

1 Nov 2017

Image: APugach/Shutterstock

The latest sensor technology has led us to the creation of a new type of smart textile that can alert you when it detects hazardous materials.

Those working with the most dangerous of materials will soon get added protection thanks to the latest developments in fabric technology from Dartmouth College in the US.

In a paper published to the Journal of the American Chemical Society, a team of researchers revealed its new SOFT material, an acronym of Self-Organised Framework on Textiles.

Aimed at any profession where a ‘hazmat’ suit is needed – such as in the military or emergency services – SOFT is supposedly the first demonstration of simultaneous detection, capture, pre-concentration and filtration of gases in a wearable that uses conductive, porous materials integrated into soft textiles.

“By adding this fabric to a protective suit, sensors can alert the user if a chemical is penetrating the hazardous-material gear,” said Katherine Mirica, who was involved in the research.

“This is not just passive protection; the textile can actively alarm a user if there is a tear or defect in the fabric, or if functional performance is diminished in any other way.”

Experiments conducted with the material showed it was capable of detecting common toxic chemicals such as nitric oxide (found in exhaust fumes) and hydrogen sulphide, a corrosive poison. The SOFT material was able to capture and filter these toxins.


The SOFT e-textile uses metal-organic frameworks to improve detection and protection from toxic chemicals. Image: K A Mirica

The future of designer materials

This system is among the first to demonstrate flexible, textile-supported electronic sensors based on materials known as metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs.

“MOFs are the future of designer materials, just like plastics were in the post-WWII era,” said Mirica.

“By integrating the MOFs into our SOFT devices, we dramatically enhance the performance of smart fabrics that are essential to safety and security.”

Mirica and the rest of her team believe that the SOFT devices featuring MOFs display reliable conductivity, enhanced porosity, flexibility and stability to washing. The fabrics are also stable in heat, have a good shelf life and retain full utility under humid conditions.

While it still requires a lot more development before it can used on any wearable systems, the team is hoping that SOFT material created using MOFs has the potential to be extended into other systems, producing a range of novel, multifunctional e-textiles.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic