Smart fabric turns sounds into electrical signals

A team of researchers has developed a fabric that works like a microphone, converting sound first into

mechanical vibrations and then into electrical signals. This is the same mechanism by which human ears hear.

All tissues vibrate in response to sounds, although thesevibrations on the nanometer scale. To capture these subtle signals, the researchers created a flexible fiber that, when woven into fabric, flexes with it, like algae on the surface of the ocean.

The fiber was created from a piezoelectric material,which generates an electrical signal when bent or mechanically deformed. This allows the tissue to convert sound vibrations into electrical signals.

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The fabric can pick up sounds in a huge range- it can transform both the sound of a mosquito and the noise of heavy traffic. When woven into the lining of a shirt, the fabric can detect patterns in the wearer's heartbeat. The fibers can also generate sound, such as the recording of spoken words, which can be transcribed by another fabric.

A study that detailsteam development, published in the journal Nature. Lead author Wei Yang, who helped develop the fiber, sees many applications for such fabrics.

“By wearing acoustic clothing, you cantalk through it, answering phone calls and communicating with people,” Yang noted. “Furthermore, this fabric can seamlessly interact with human skin, allowing users to comfortably, continuously, in real time and for a long time to monitor the state of the heart and breathing.”

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