High-tech tex­tiles: Tex-Ray makes mi­cro­com­put­ers you can wear

A spe­cial­ized thread de­vel­oped in Tai­wan that is used as ma­te­rial for In­tel, Adi­das, Lu­l­ule­mon and Un­der Ar­mor smart cloth­ing is the se­cret weapon high-tech firms here are re­ly­ing on to in­tro­duce new re­lated prod­ucts.


Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from U. S.based mar­ket re­search firm HIS, the global smart cloth­ing mar­ket was worth US$ 586 mil­lion in 2014, a more than 30 per­cent rise since 2011. Bai Chi- chung, pres­i­dent of the Tai­wan Tex­tile Re­search In­sti­tute, fur­ther as­serts that the pro­duc­tion value of Tai­wanese smart cloth­ing will con­tinue to rise steadily, mak­ing it the lo­cal tex­tile in­dus­try’s most po­ten­tial- rich prod­uct.

Michael Lee, CEO and co- founder of Rooti Labs and for­merly a manager at Hon Hai hand­set man­u­fac­turer FIH, went to AiQ Smart Cloth­ing, a sub­sidiary of es­tab­lished tex­tile brand Tex- Ray, to col­lab­o­rate on the pro­duc­tion of smart wear­able tech­nol­ogy.

Lee sim­ply clips the smart NT$ 50 coin- sized mod­u­lar biosen­sor his com­pany has de­vel­oped to a form- fit­ting work­out top, and within two sec­onds, the top trans­forms into a piece of smart ap­parel.

“Th­ese are stain­less steel threads, which begin sens­ing bio­met­ric data right af­ter you put it on. It’s all MIT ( made in Tai­wan), too,” says Lee. When a run­ner wears this smart top dur­ing a work­out, a re­mote per­son can de­tect where you are run­ning and the pace. Such bio­met­rics as heart rate can be mon­i­tored, and it can also link to smart­phone apps, and con­duct regular track­ing to com­pile a per­sonal bio­met­ric chart.

Not just Michael Lee, but even Mike Bell, vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral manager of new de­vices at In­tel, was spot­ted last May sport­ing smart cloth­ing de­vel­oped with AiQ.

Upon en­ter­ing Tex- Ray and AiQ’s of- fice on Lin­sen North Road in Taipei, we learn that Tex- Ray has been de­vel­op­ing this fiber for over a decade. Specif­i­cally, the fiber, known as 316L, is ex­tracted from stain­less steel.

Bai Chi- chung re­lates that it started out as a fiber de­vel­oped by a den­tist in oral care. Tex- Ray threw all of its group re­sources into adapt­ing it from industrial use to ap­ply it to ap­parel.

Why did it take more than a decade to turn stain­less steel into cloth­ing? First of all, the fiber had to be over 100 times thin­ner than a strand of hu­man hair, as only fiber that thin made into cloth or ap­parel can re­tain the elec­tri­cal con­duc­tiv­ity of metal whilst also be­ing an ar­ti­cle of cloth­ing.

AiQ vice pres­i­dent Steve Huang re­lates that, “When you wear smart cloth­ing made with su­per- thin fiber, you’d never guess that it’s made from metal. Yet it can sense your met­rics whilst pro­vid­ing the soft­ness, com­fort, pli­a­bil­ity, and wash­ing and dry­ing func­tions ex­pected of cloth­ing. It can also be matched with elec­tronic de­vices to be­come a com­puter you wear.”

In more than a decade since devel­op­ment com­menced on smart cloth­ing, not ev­ery­thing came to­gether quickly. Huang re­lates that at first stain­less steel fiber was used in the au­to­mo­bile mar­ket, and the com­pany be­gan in­vest­ing in smart cloth­ing devel­op­ment seven years ago.

The sec­ond is­sue in­volves tech­nol­ogy and high stan­dards. Tex- Ray was not anx­ious to make a profit, but rather sought to be in­volved in the set­ting of spec­i­fi­ca­tions by ma­jor in­ter­na­tional man­u­fac­tur­ers and ad­vanced coun­tries.

Huang notes that it is like work­ing one’s way up from the mail­room to the board­room, en­sur­ing ex­cel­lence at ev­ery level be­fore bring­ing out a prod­uct.

AiQ is cur­rently work­ing on ISO 13485 ( med­i­cal equip­ment qual­ity man­age­ment sys­tem) cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Once this is achieved, prod­ucts are then cer­ti­fied as med­i­cal grade, a chal­leng­ing stan­dard to meet.

In ad­di­tion, AiQ is ac­tively in­volved in re­lated stan­dards as­so­ci­a­tions and or­ga­ni­za­tions, and has joined Europe’s Hori­zon 2020 in­ter­ac­tive cloth­ing elec­tron­ics tex­tile prod­ucts in­te­grated ap­pli­ca­tion co­op­er­a­tive pro­gram.

Huang Po- hsi­ung, direc­tor of the Depart­ment of Prod­ucts, Tai­wan Tex­tile Re­search In­sti­tute, re­lates: “By par­tic­i­pat­ing in the EU’s Hori­zon 2020, we can take part in spec­i­fi­ca­tion for­mu­la­tion among ma­jor Euro­pean coun­tries, but that takes time and money.” The good thing is that, from con­duc­tive fiber to smart clothes, AiQ can act not merely as a con­tract man­u­fac­turer on the sup­ply chain, but an early stage devel­op­ment part­ner with ma­jor in­ter­na­tional brands.

Smart cloth­ing is be­com­ing a fullfledged in­dus­try, and AiQ of the TexRay group is not Tai­wan’s only in­dus­try player, with other names in­clud­ing New Fibers Tex­tile Cor­po­ra­tion, Eclat, and Zen­tan Tech­nol­ogy also get­ting into smart cloth­ing devel­op­ment.

Th­ese firms are go­ing all out, tak­ing Tai­wan’s tex­tile in­dus­try for­ward and com­bin­ing it with Tai­wan’s in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try to de­velop smart clothes. Mak­ing com­put­ers and mo­bile phones into some­thing we can wear like cloth­ing is hap­pen­ing, right here and right now. Trans­lated from the Chi­nese by David To­man, Ad­di­tional read­ing se­lec­tions can be found at http:// english. cw. com. tw

Cap­tured from the In­ter­net

Tex-Ray’s logo is seen in this im­age.

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