Scientists have developed a textile-based display technology that is washable and does not require an external power source, paving the way for smart clothes.
When we think about clothes, they are usually formed with textiles and have to be both wearable and washable for daily use. However, smart clothing has had a problem with its power sources and moisture permeability, which causes the devices to malfunction.
To ease out the problem of external power sources and enhance the practicability of wearable displays, Professor Kyung Cheol Choi from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST) fabricated their wearing display modules on real textiles that integrated polymer solar cells (PSCs) with organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs).
PSCs have been one of the most promising candidates for a next-generation power source, especially for wearable and optoelectronic applications because they can provide stable power without an external power source, while OLEDs can be driven with milliwatts.
However, the problem was that they are both very vulnerable to external moisture and oxygen. The encapsulation barrier is essential for their reliability.
The conventional encapsulation barrier is sufficient for normal environments. However, it loses its characteristics in aqueous environments, such as water.
It limits the commercialisation of wearing displays that must operate even on rainy days or after washing.
To tackle this issue, the team employed a washable encapsulation barrier that can protect the device without losing its characteristics after washing through atomic layer deposition (ALD) and spin coating.
With this encapsulation technology, the team confirmed that textile-based wearing display modules including PSCs, OLEDs, and the proposed encapsulation barrier exhibited little change in characteristics even after 20 washings with 10-minute cycles.
Moreover, the encapsulated device operated stably with a low curvature radius of three millimetre and boasted high reliability.
Finally, it exhibited no deterioration in properties over 30 days even after being subjected to both bending stress and washing.
Since it uses a less stressful textile, compared to conventional wearable electronic devices that use traditional plastic substrates, this technology can accelerate the commercialization of wearing electronic devices.
Importantly, this wearable electronic device in daily life can save energy through a self-powered system.
“I could say that this research realised a truly washable wearable electronic module in the sense that it uses daily wearable textiles instead of the plastic used in conventional wearable electronic devices,” said Choi.
“Saving energy with PSCs, it can be self-powered, using nature-friendly solar energy, and washed. I believe that it has paved the way for a ‘true-meaning wearable display’ that can be formed on textile, beyond the attachable form of wearable technology,” he said.