Remember to spray on your deodorant first, yeah?

Paul Raven @ 17-09-2010

A brief “hey, look, tech!” post, simply because it seems to be everywhere at the moment, and I’d totally jump off a cliff if all my friends were doing it too*: spray-on clothing!

The spray consists of short fibres that are mixed into a solvent, allowing it to be sprayed from a can or high-pressure spray gun. The fibres are mixed with polymers that bind them together to form a fabric. The texture of the fabric can be varied by using wool, linen or acrylic fibres.

The fabric, which dries when it meets the skin, is very cold when it is sprayed on, a limitation that may frustrate hopes for spray-on trousers and other garments.

“I really wanted to make a futuristic, seamless, quick and comfortable material,” said Torres. “In my quest to produce this kind of fabric, I ended up returning to the principles of the earliest textiles such as felt, which were also produced by taking fibres and finding a way of binding them together without having to weave or stitch them.”

Apparently it takes fifteen minutes to spray a T-shirt onto a model, which (for now at least) pretty much ruins the only practical selling point of spray-on clothing, namely convenience. But sensibly Torres has other (more sensible but less headline-worthy) applications in mind, e.g. medical. The cynic in me wonders if he didn’t think of the medical apps first and come up with the clothing thing as an effective marketing gambit… whether he did or not, it seems to have worked.

And your sf-nal pat-ourselves-on-the-back-for-prescience moment: Technovelgy points out that good ol’ Stanislav Lem wrote about spray-on clothes back in 1961. I dare say it’s been mentioned in fiction a few times since.

[ * That particular parental rejoinder has always bothered me. I remember responding to it once with something along the lines of “if I saw a trampoline at the bottom, then yes”. I think I may have been sent to my room afterwards. ]

The emperor’s new threads

Paul Raven @ 31-08-2010

New Scientist has a brief report on a team working toward making metamaterial threads that would be functionally invisible:

… fabricating metamaterials using components small enough to manipulate the sub-micrometre wavelengths of visible light is no mean feat. To avoid that problem, Tuniz’s colleagues Boris Kuhlmey, Simon Fleming and Maryanne Large have suggested an elegant way to shrink a larger metamaterial-like structure down to a size capable of controlling visible light: assemble standard glass rods and metal tubes into a cylinder, heat the assembly until it softens, and draw it into a long thin fibre. The process preserves the shapes of internal structures, but shrinks them down to the nanoscale needed to control visible light, and the resultant metamaterial is in the form of a thread that is thin enough to be flexible, like an optical fibre. So far, Tuniz and colleagues have produced 10-micrometre-thick threads.

Now, the researchers have used a computer model to design an invisible version of their thread. To achieve that, the thread must be just 1 micrometre thick – the metamaterial absorbs some light and so would appear dark if it was any thicker. Their calculations suggest that the thread would be invisible if seen from the side – rather than end on – in polarised light.

No promises of invisibility cloaks yet, sadly. But you never know…

Fabricating fabrics: 3D printing meets (sustainable?) fashion

Paul Raven @ 30-07-2010

Man, things are moving fast. I’ve been blogging about 3D printing on and off for a few years now, but I wasn’t aware that some designers are already using fabbing techniques to print off some very cyberpunkish custom-tailored clothes and accessories [via BoingBoing]. I expect the novelty of the technology and process means that bespoke fabbed fashion will be pretty pricey, and remain exclusively so for a few years… but then again, I wouldn’t want to bet on it.

And as commentators on the BoingBoing post point out, Ecouterre‘s greenwashing of a process that is neither energy efficient nor free of industrial solvents and chemicals makes the use of the word “sustainable” a bit of a stretch, at least at the moment.

Bonus: want to get into 3d printing yourself, but don’t have mad stacks of cash? Find and hack an old inkjet printer for bargain bootstrap access to a highly disruptive technology!