The University of Southampton

Printed smart textiles shortlisted twice for international entrepreneurial awards

Published: 7 September 2017
Presenting at the Merck Displaying Futures competition

Electronics and electrical engineering research developing futuristic smart fabrics has been highlighted in two competition finals for next generation technologies.

Researchers from Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University of Southampton were shortlisted in the top 10 entries for this summer’s Royal Society of Chemistry’s Emerging Technologies Competition and Merck Displaying Futures Award.

Dr Kai Yang, Dr Russel Torah, Dr John Tudor and Professor Steve Beeby entered the Emerging Technologies contest with work on printed smart textiles that is linked to University spinout company Smart Fabric Inks.

Through research funded by large Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and EU projects such as MICROFLEX, SPHERE and CREATIF, Southampton researchers have developed a range of inks compatible with fabrics that can light up, heat up, change colour, transmit data, respond to touch and measure bio-potentials on the body, detect movement and harvest energy. Each of these different inks can be combined to form sensor systems on fabric for applications such as fashion, automotive, medical, military, advertising, furnishings and gaming.

The annual Emerging Technologies competition is targeted at SMEs and entrepreneurial academics from the UK and EU, offering up to £10,000 and mentoring support from business sponsors. Although the Southampton team missed out on the top prize this time, researchers were awarded expertise from a patent attorney who discussed the potential pathways for IP protection and licensing opportunities for the technology.

Dr Russel Torah, Dr Yang Wei, Dr Kai Yang, Dr John Tudor and Professor Steve Beeby were also successful in reaching the final of the Displaying Futures Award from science and technology company Merck this summer.

The international competition, which received 69 applicants from 22 countries, offered prizes worth a total of $150,000 for entrepreneurs proposing flexible applications in the field of hybrid electronics.

Southampton’s entry was based on group research covering printed bio-potential monitoring electrodes for use on fabric, developed during their EU project BRAVEHEALTH and Medical Research Council project SmartMove. The technology uses smart textile medical devices to monitor bio-potential signals such as ECG for the heart, EEG for the brain and EMG for muscles, to monitor the health and activity of patients. Since this technique monitors the body via garments worn by the subject, it allows activities to be observed over a longer period than time in hospital and helps clinicians obtain a more accurate diagnosis of healthcare problems.

Dr Russel Torah and Dr Yang Wei joined a week-long boot camp at the Merck Headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany, for the competition final and delivered a seven-minute Dragons’ Den-style pitch with a Q&A for the judges and audience.

“It has given us a great opportunity to showcase our work to future investors to ensure this research has a lasting impact,” Russel says. “We believe printed smart fabrics are the next stage in the printed electronics evolution and our pioneering work at Southampton is being recognised in these highly competitive competitions.”

Discover more about smart fabrics research at Southampton and the Smart Fabric Inks spinout company.

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