A research team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, has developed a smart fabric that can detect the wavelength and direction of light falling on it, by accurately placing sensors in each fibre and co-ordinating the electrical signals they send when light falls on them. The results were a step towards "ambient light imaging fabrics" said the researchers, who have extended earlier work that placed sensors in relatively large polymer fibres. The team found a way to stretch the 25 mm strands of polymer into much thinner fibres while maintaining the relative positions of the sensors. This earlier work has led to the creation of very long and flexible light and temperature sensors that may find a role in smart fabrics for soldiers or those working in hostile environments.
In their latest work, these thinner strands were woven into a 0.1m square section of fabric. The careful creation of the fibres and positioning of the light-sensitive elements meant that the team knew which signals were being sent by which sensors.
This enabled the team to reconstruct, albeit crudely, an image projected onto the small square of fabric. The researchers said their work was an "important step" towards finding ways to get many nanoscale devices working together.