The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Westphal begins work on ‘smart’ fabrics

The Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design signed a $1 million agreement with knitting machine producer Shima Seiki USA in February in order to build a lab emphasizing the research and development of smart textiles, as announced Feb. 27 in a Drexel press release.Genevieve Dion, CoMAD’s fashion design program director, headed the agreement for the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Laboratory, which will be located on the fifth floor of Nesbitt Hall.

It will consist of 16 computer workstations for design and four knitting machines donated by Shima Seiki. Additionally, the company is offering access to research and development support, including help, advice and access to knit libraries in New York and New Jersey.

“Smart textile and wearable technology are one of the most interdisciplinary fields of our time,” Dion said. “This is a brilliant new avenue for us to be going on. I couldn’t think of a better place to do it than Drexel.”

Smart textiles are fabrics that are embedded with some sort of technology. These textiles can serve multiple purposes, such as monitoring body signals and sending messages. The study of these textiles is a growing field, both in science and marketing. Drexel’s research will focus on the development of smart textiles for many uses, including medical and military uses.

Shima Seiki is a “state-of-the-art company” that manufactures knitting machines and design systems. The company focuses on an “all-in-one” approach, allowing users to design, prototype and mass-produce garments on one system.

This system is attractive for smart textile research because it allows the user to program and view specific knit patterns. Using this feature, the so-called “smart threads” can be woven into garments, imbuing them with technological properties. The machines’ ability to create prototypes and mass-produce garments also makes them attractive to researchers. Though Shima Seiki is not a smart textile company, “they recognize the potential for their technology,” Dion said.

The research venture will be a collaboration between the College of Media Arts and Design; the iSchool; the College of Medicine; the College of Nursing and Health Professions; and the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems.

“We are really highlighting research at the intersection of technology and the arts,” Deborah Crawford, senior vice provost for research at Drexel, said.

Students are being encouraged to participate as research assistants. Additionally, Crawford said that simulation technology would be available to undergraduate students.

“Our hope is that students will be excited about the possibilities that this research holds and it will inspire them to engage in research,” she said.

According to Dion, immediate research will focus on applications in medical and nursing fields, using the technology to make work environments safer with communication and protection technology. Other possible health care applications include fabrics that would monitor patient vital signs.

“It’s very much exploratory research,” Crawford said. “[We ask ourselves,] ‘What new textiles can we create and how can we apply them?’”

She continued, “We hope this lab will be one of several to explore intersections between technology and the arts.”One example of a suggestion of this cross-functional research is an immersive lab where students could see designed products in three dimensions.