Scientists can weave data into your clothing

Magnetized-thread fabric
Using magnetic properties of conductive thread, University of Washington researchers can store data in fabric. In this example, the code to unlock a door is stored in a patch and read by magnetometers. Commercial products would almost certainly look more stylish. (UW Photo / Dennis Wise)

Want to wear your password on your sleeve? Computer scientists from the University of Washington can make it so.

A research team led by UW’s Shyam Gollakota has demonstrated a method for encoding digital data, including ID tags and security keys, into electrically conductive threads that can be woven invisibly into items of clothing.

The digital code is activated by magnetizing the threads, and then can be read out using magnetometers. A report on the data-weaving experiment was presented last week in Quebec City at the Association for Computing Machinery’s User Interface Software and Technology Symposium.

“This is a completely electronic-free design, which means you can iron the smart fabric or put it in the washer and dryer,” Gollakota, an associate professor at UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, said today in a news release. “You can think of the fabric as a hard disk — you’re actually doing this data storage on the clothes you’re wearing.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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