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Verena Fulde

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Smart sofas, talking towels, and tablecloths that save dinnertime. Textiles are getting smart.

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Here in our Company, I have stumbled on the latest trend: new technologies are connecting materials and turning them into smart textiles.

Textilien werden schlau.

So, for example, the tablecloth can shut down WiFi around the dinner table, so the family can eat in peace without constantly checking whether they have received any new messages. I reckon that could be a real sales hit with despairing parents.

Or there’s the towel in the guest bathroom that could reveal the WiFi password that is normally hidden in a tile, so that the visitor can log into the network. Also practical.

This may still be some way off, but it’s not as crazy as it sounds at first.

It’s not just fridges, washing machines and cars that can be networked and smart. Thanks to interwoven smart fibers, textiles can recognize if they are being pressed or pulled, they can change their shape and color, sense electrostatic change, or send radio signals. If this change is connected to the Internet or the smart home central unit via a new technology, such as an IoT module, then it can be used to manage all kinds of things.

Deutsche Telekom is working with the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) in Berlin and Berlin University of the Arts (UdK) to research potential uses. The results include the scenarios outlined above.

If the smart textiles were also combined with artificial intelligence, interesting scenarios could be developed:

The sofa would recognize which family member is sitting on it and, for example, show the wife’s messages directly on the television, and switch on the lamp and the WiFi, whereas it would connect the teenager’s cell phone with the stereo system and play their streamed music on it. And for the dog, it would roll out his feeding bowl. Just kidding. But actually, why not? It would certainly be technically possible.

And even the doormat would know that the children are home and would automatically notify the parents – for example, “David just got home from school.” The WiFi would be automatically turned on, but only for half an hour and not in the kids’ rooms, so that homework can be done without distractions.

Once you start coming up with ideas, it doesn’t take long for them to pile up. And if the sofa, doormat, towel, etc. know that the WiFi is being switched on now, that’s a whole new level of connectivity, because everything is connected with everything else.

Let's wait and see when this becomes reality. Until then, there are still a few obstacles to overcome, some of them really quite banal. For example, the materials have to be washable. At the moment they aren’t and water makes them start to rust. Really not so smart.

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