Scientists at the University of Washington achieve this amazing technique by using ambient FM radio waves that are already in the air. They reflect them back, encoding them with new messages and information, where they are picked up by nearby smartphones or car radios. Clothing with integrated sensors could monitor the air for these signals, and send them to your handheld device.
And it doesn’t just stop at shirts; everything from posters to street signs can reflect back these radio waves, resulting in a stream of useful information. A band poster can play a snippet of a new song; street signs can help you determine your location (especially useful if you get lost). Everyday objects can be turned into transmitters with a minimum of fuss.
One of the early issues with this technology was battery power; it caused an enormous drain of energy. But by piggybacking on radio waves already in the air, engineers can keep the energy drain at almost zero. The next step is integrating smart devices (like smart fabrics) into everyday life.
The sensors in smart fabric can do more than just turn into a portable FM radio; they can be used to monitor heart rate, steps, and other health concerns. For those on the fitness track this is an indispensable resource; for those with health concerns, smart fabric could literally prove to be a lifesaver.
If you’re worried about the impact on the FM radio waves being used, relax; the signals piggybacking on them make absolutely no impact. The scientists use an adjacent band, meaning your favorite radio station will be unchanged, even as it’s being used to send information.
The next step for this technology is determining the viability of mass production. Soon, your shirt could do much more than make you look good — it could help you find good music, and even find you directions when you’re lost. How many items of clothing can say that?