Researchers with the University of Maryland have created a smart fabric that can automatically adjust its thermal properties to keep the wearer warm or cool based on the present conditions. In the summer when the conditions are warm and humid, for example, the fabric adjusts so that infrared radiation can pass through, helping keep the wearer cool. When its drier and cooler out, though, the fabric changes to keep the wearer warmer.
According to the researchers, this is the first time a fabric has been developed that can automatically adjust its insulating properties based on external conditions. The technology centers around infrared radiation, which is the main way the body releases its heat.
The fabric engages an action called ‘gating’ the body’s infrared radiation via the use of conductive metal coated onto a special type of engineered yarn. When conditions are hot and humid, this technology causes the strands in the fabric to come closer together, pulling open the fabric’s pores so that more heat can escape.
In cooler, drier conditions, the fabric traps more infrared heat, resulting in the wearer staying warmer. Because these changes are triggered by the conditions in which the fabric resides, the user automatically benefits from the temperature regulation without having to do anything.
This process is described as nearly instant, which means the fabric will start accommodating a temperature change before the wearer starts to feel warm or cold. The paper’s corresponding author Min Ouyang described the futuristic fabric as “a true bidirectional regulator.”