UK: Fabric controls with an LCD display

LONDON: Eleksen Group is hoping that its interactive textile technology will form the foundation for a new generation of wash-and-wear computer control and display devices.

The centrepiece of the technology is ElekTex, a fabric-based, pressure- sensitive control interface that can be integrated into jackets, bags and other textile products. The technology is already used as a remote control for iPods and cell phones in backpacks and coats.

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Eleksen presented its latest design concept, which integrates ElekTex fabric controls with an LCD display that can interact with Windows Vista's Sideshow feature. The Sideshow feature exports information from a Vista laptop to a secondary display. Mini-applications, or "gadgets," written for Sideshow can then wirelessly deliver e-mail, alerts or other updates to the remote screen even if the laptop remains in its case and turned off. Fabric-based controls and embedded control electronics interact with the display. Eleksen is also planning support for secondary displays on the Macintosh.

Initial implementations of ElekTex are likely to be integrated into laptop bags with embedded button controls and small color LCD displays, says John Collins, vice president of marketing and business development at Eleksen. However, Collins envisions an eventual move to flexible displays based on color organic LED technology. That would allow the control and display surfaces to be embedded on any fabric surface, including a shirt.

ElekTex fabrics are constructed from woven layers of nylon and carbon-impregnated nylon that's not only bendable, but also washable. Because of the nature of the material, it can be sewed, glued or even heat-welded into other fabrics. Mark Treger, national sales manager at Goodhope Bags in Chino, California, has embedded ElekTex sensors into backpacks to control iPods.

The one limitation is cost. A laptop bag with the technology would cost about $200. The technology and the manufacturing process took years to perfect and that gives the company a leg up on any competition.

Eleksen is producing button and scroll controls. Next, it plans to support gestures across the control surface, simulating a mouse or fabric-based touch pad.

Even more interesting will be what designers can dream up if the technology catches on. The most fascinating applications haven't even been thought of yet.

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Added: August 18, 2007 Source: Agencies
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