Imagine a future where you’re able to press a button on your shirt to turn up the volume. That’s exactly what the new “acoustic fabric” being developed by engineers at MIT and collaborators at Rhode Island School of Design will allow you to do. Put simply, it acts as a microphone by first converting sound into mechanical vibrations before becoming electrical signals, similarly to how human ears hear.
Even though all fabrics vibrate in response to audible sounds on the scale of nanometers, they are much too small to ordinarily be sensed. So, to capture these typically imperceptible signals, the researchers had to create a flexible fiber that, when woven into a fabric, bends with the fabric, designed from a “piezoelectric” material that produces an electrical signal when bent or mechanically deformed. This smart fabric is capable of capturing sounds ranging in decibel from a quiet library to heavy traffic, and can determine the precise direction of sudden sounds, like clapping.
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Wearing an acoustic garment, you might talk through it to answer phone calls and communicate with others. In addition, this fabric can imperceptibly interface with the human skin, enabling wearers to monitor their heart and respiratory condition in a comfortable, continuous, real-time, and long-term manner,” said Wei Yan, Assistant Professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.