The textile and apparel industry has always been at the forefront of innovation, continuously pushing boundaries to create fabrics that serve both form and function. In recent years, groundbreaking technology has emerged, offering immense potential for improving the lives of disabled individuals. Fluidically programmed wearable haptic textiles, as detailed in the scientific article “Fluidically Programmed Wearable Haptic Textiles,” present a promising avenue for enhancing accessibility and independence for those with disabilities.
A wearable device made of fabric, created by engineers in Texas named Prof. Marcia O’Malley, Barclay Jumet, and Prof. Daniel Preston, could help simplify, improve, and compensate for limited vision and hearing abilities by using other senses. One of the main benefits of this fabric-based device is that it is not easily noticed.
Unlike larger assistive devices like wheelchairs or exoskeletons, this technology can be discreetly added to a person’s regular clothing. This not only helps the user feel respected and confident but also allows for a more natural and seamless experience.
The textile-based mechanism is crafted from advanced materials that can be seamlessly integrated into clothing or worn as an accessory, such as a belt or vest. Comprised of a belt and textile sleeves, the wearables rely on fluidic signals like pressures and flow rates to control the delivery of complex haptic cues, including sensations like vibration, tapping, and squeezing. A small, lightweight carbon dioxide tank affixed to the belt feeds airtight circuits incorporated in the heat-sealable textiles, causing quarter-sized pouches – up to six on each sleeve – to inflate with varying force and frequency.
Achieving complex cues is a great addition to the wearable technology in the world right now. This innovative design actually indicates the shift towards a safer future for over 1 Billion people with loss of hearing and an additional 1 Billion people with loss of vision. People have been looking towards a better haptic and feedback embedded in the existing textile. Complex structure and sensing technology can easily improve hearing and sensing functions in the textile field.
Understanding the technology
Fluidically programmed wearable haptic textiles represent a fusion of materials science, fluid mechanics, and human-computer interaction. These textiles are designed to provide tactile cues and haptic feedback to the wearer through the controlled inflation and deflation of embedded cells within the fabric. The technology’s core innovation lies in its ability to deliver programmable, directional, and time-variant cues directly through clothing.
By employing pressurized air instead of electronics, this innovative method offloads a significant amount of control and sensor technology within the textile sheet structure. This improves haptics and reliably provides directional feedback with only a small piece of clothing. By providing a third sense in addition to touch, this technology can be of considerable assistance to those who are impaired. Haptic feedback may improve the functionality of cochlear implants or facilitate patients’ ability to interpret lips.
One of the big advantages with using these smart textiles for haptic devices is that they bring a lot more freedom and flexibility to the design space. We’re no longer constrained by the size or geometry of components that need to be incorporated into a design.— Marcia O’Malley
Chair / Family Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering / Thomas Michael Panos in Mechanical Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bioengineering and Computer Science
Technology has been slow to co-opt haptics or communication based on the sense of touch. Of the technologies that have incorporated haptics, wearable devices often still require bulky external hardware to provide complex cues, limiting their use in day-to-day activities… In the future, this technology could be directly integrated with navigational systems, so that the very textiles making up one’s clothing can tell users which way to go without taxing their already overloaded visual and auditory senses — for instance by needing to consult a map or listen to a virtual assistant.— Barclay Jumet
Lead Author / Mechanical Engineering PhD student
How It Helps Disabled Persons
- Enhanced Navigation: One of the most profound applications of this technology is in navigation assistance for visually impaired individuals. By embedding these haptic textiles into garments such as shirts or jackets, wearers can receive real-time directional cues. For example, a blind person can be guided safely through city streets or unfamiliar environments by feeling tactile cues on their skin, eliminating the need for traditional navigation aids.
- Improved Mobility: With fluidically programmed textiles, motorized wheelchair users can experience a new level of control. The textiles can provide feedback on obstacles or terrain changes, allowing users to adapt their movements intuitively.
- Communication Aid: This textile can be integrated into gloves or vests, enabling users to communicate through touch-based sign language or other tactile codes.
- Assistance in Daily Tasks: Everyday tasks like cooking, dressing, or handling objects can be made more accessible. It can provide sensory feedback, guiding users’ hands and movements, making these activities more manageable and safe.
Advancement in the entertainment industry, bringing ‘haptic touch’
These innovative textiles can be implemented into more and more segments such as the entertainment industry like movies, games, augmented reality virtual reality, etc. by incorporating haptic touch. These senses are achievable by the rapid speed and fabrication process. Advanced replication and complex sensing enable rapid feedback to the sensing system having an ample amount of response.
3D gaming and augmented reality can have a serious impact through the addition of this sensory textile. The rapid response can enhance the stimulation of force and feedback of the actions in gaming and AR-related stuff. Another application example is restoring the sense of touch for an amputee by embedding sensors on a prosthesis to gather data that the wearables could relay as haptic feedback elsewhere on the body.
Because the fluidly programmed functionalities are well-suited for tasks that require the delivery of repeated sets of information, such as navigation, teleoperation, and notifications, They opted to implement our haptic textiles into a wearable format for directing a user in navigation. With these systematic upgrades and reduced reliance on solenoid valves, our haptic textiles are capable of communicating to a user in real-world scenarios without being constrained to a benchtop setting.
The heat-sealable textiles are resilient to wear and tear, making the device suitable for intensive daily use. Instead of a smartwatch with simple vibrational cues, we can now envision a ‘smart shirt’ that gives the sensation of a stroking hand or a soft tap on the arm. In addition to serving as the basis for medically useful applications, haptic textiles could “enable a more immersive and seamlessly connected world.