Technology is not all about fast cars and fingertip-sized micro-processors. This is a fact which present generation has begun to reckon. But the fact that there is technology that is or very soon going to be woven into the clothes that we wear is quite another issue. The new world will see people dressed as hi-tech as James Bond while still looking like him. Technology in cloth will make it easier for planes to land and cars to run.
People used to talk of wearing their hearts on their sleeves but the time has come not to just have your heart there but also your phone and your respiration monitor and…the list is building up with every step forward in technology. The number of people and organisations all over the world that are pioneering new ways in which to make cloth more useful than just something we clothe ourselves with are growing at an unprecedented rate.
Take for instance, weaver Asha Peta Thompson, she is the mind behind what looks like a pillow the size of a magazine. It’s a television remote for people with motor skill problems. Normal remote controls require immense amounts of coordination and dexterity. The pillow relies on fibres woven into it to transmit signals and embroidered volume and other icons for controlling it. Asha Thompson makes textiles work for education.
Then there are those people who see suits making firemen and soldiers more efficient in their fields. There is a project underway at the Phoenix Fire Department. A super fibre is being developed: one that allows fire-fighters to suit up and take on some of the most terrifying fires, making it easier to go into a burning building and actually rescue people as opposed to clumsily dousing a blaze with a jet of water from a hose aimed in through a window. Hi-tech fabrics are making this possible.
And then there are the soldiers. People always worry that though camouflaged, soldiers are still rather vulnerable to enemy fire. And then along came the people that seem to find inspiration in H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. The Future Warrior programme makes it possible for soldiers to quite literally blend into the background. Using a complex system of fibre optics, uniforms are being developed that will effectively bend light around the wearer of the uniform, making them look like a fleeting bubble against their backdrop.
But saving lives and defending one’s country are not the only things that textiles are helping out with. There are inventions like the CargoLifter that may look whimsical but are already making an impression on the way we think of transportation. The CargoLifter or CL 75 is one of those bizarre looking things that nobody can guess the real purpose of. What resembles a hot-air balloon is actually a 20-storey-high balloon made of an unbelievably thin but high tensile strength fabric that, along with the help of the harmless helium gas, and is capable of lifting a load of up to 75-tons. In India, it has already been claimed as a tentative answer to the problem of transporting of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca. This mega-balloon is actually only a prototype of a larger lighter-than-air ship, the CL 160, a safer and more reliable answer to the Hindenburg. The ship will have a translucent skin which is a laminated polyester fabric measuring slimmer than one thirty-second of an inch thick called Vectran. This is the future of heave lifting and, surprisingly, advertising! The CL160 is easily illuminated by only two custom-made thousand watt bulbs and yet the fluorescent illumination it provides is staggering.
Then there are the other brilliant brain-children of designers and innovators that will make it easier to remain healthy. Like the smart shirt developed by Sensatex Inc. This innovative little vest has the power to monitor your vitals and beam them wirelessly to a remote location, for example your doctor’s office or the hospital.
And all this is but a tiny fibre in the entire fabric of things. This is but a drop in the ocean. There’s a dress for every occasion and a textile technology for every reason, both conceivable and inconceivable! There’s the anti-gravity jacket that can levitate (but not lift the wearer), there’s the blanket that heats up to keep you warm and then there’s the dress that you can literally just cut out of a piece of cloth! We need to stop and think of the other marvellous things like the fibre that is extracted from cows’ and goats’ milk and the silk that is being developed on the lines of the gossamer of a spider’s web. Textile and technology are in a wonderful relationship that can give the world some of its most intriguing inventions.
There was a time when natural fibres were all that we could think of. There were no answers beyond cotton and wool and silk. Then, at the end of the 19th century, came rayon and it’s been a wonderful adventure ever since. And with the coming in of all these new ranges of textile fabrics, the adventure continues!