National Physical Laboratory

NPL success at Royal Society Summer Exhibition

NPL, together with Coventry University, had a very successful week running 'Clever Clothing' as one of the two NPL stands at this year's Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

Visitors trying their hand at the Great NPL Bug-Off game
Clever Clothing exhibit at the Royal Society
Summer Science Exhibition 2015

With the assistance of around 50 keen volunteers, we welcomed a range of visitors over the seven-day event held in the last week of June, including school pupils, families and fellows of the Royal Society. With 22 science exhibits on display and a total visitor count for the week of over 13,000 people, the Summer Science Exhibition is the Royal Society's main public event of the year.

Visitors were able to compete in the Great NPL Bug-Off game, which involved driving an electronic car on a conductive pathway from start to finish without leaving the track. The car was designed to time itself during the course and successful completion in a fast time resulted in a coveted 3D-printed NPL SI-bot prize, one available for each of the seven SI units. This game was a simple illustration to visitors that fabrics can be used to conduct electricity, and that the method being used by NPL and Coventry University allows selectivity about which area of the fabric is conductive.

There was also an opportunity for visitors to operate a fabric stretch rig, which had been built to monitor how the electrical resistance of conductive fabrics changed with stretching. This interactive activity illustrated to visitors how important it was to measure the properties and robustness of conductive fabrics in order to optimise their use in clothing applications.

Moving your hand closer to the robot's capacitance sensing jumper caused his head to glow brightly
Moving your hand closer to the robot's capacitance
sensing jumper caused his head to glow brightly

We also demonstrated how conductive fabric can be used as a capacitance sensor using a 3D-printed robot wearing a conductive cotton jumper, where the conductive cotton acted as the sensor. Electronics inside the robot were programmed to detect the change in capacitance as a visitor moved closer to the robot and illuminate an LED light inside his head.;

An application of conductive fabrics was provided by the company Footfalls and Heartbeats, who produce compression bandages to measure applied compression when treating conditions such as chronic leg ulcers. This provided a discussion point for the many visitors who wanted to know about real-life applications of conductive fabrics and yarns.

The take-home message for visitors was that fabrics can be used to conduct electricity and that measuring the properties of these new materials is important so that they can be used reliably. Over the week we discussed our research with a wide range of visitors, including major industrialists and academics, all of which helped to raise the profile of the project and interest in smart fabrics generally.

We were also featured in an article for the Guardian's Healthcare Professionals Network and the school visits provided a chance to speak with young students about their interest in science and possible career options. The week was enjoyed by visitors and volunteers alike and it was a great chance to showcase this collaborative project.

Find out more about NPL's Smart Textiles research

Find out more about NPL's Electronics Interconnection research

Last Updated: 15 Sep 2016
Created: 27 Jul 2015


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