Smart fabrics for storing security codes


Security and safety is a growing concern in the world. Tackling the issue, a team of researchers from the University of Washington (UW) developed a smart fabric capable of storing security codes. With progress in technology, the new method is a more promising and a less invasive method than using fingerprints, eye scans or chips implanted in your hands.

The study was presented on October 25th at the 2017 Association for Computing Machinery’s User Interface and Technology Symposium (UIST 2017). The team of scientists magnetised conductive threads normally used to conduct electrical signals, allowing it to store digital data. Shyam Gollakota, associate professor at Paul G Allen Computer Science and Engineering School says that “Already these days conductive threads are being placed in clothing allowing them to carry electrical current and create items that light up or communicate. Magnetising those threads only make you think of them as a hard disk for storage”.

The ingenuity behind this creation is the fact that the smart fabric is electronic-free implying that it can be washed and ironed, even placed in a dryer without damaging the data stored inside. Tests conducted on fabrics showed that the codes were intact even after the fabrics had been subjected to a washing, drying and ironing cycle at temperatures close to 160o C.

The code is stored in the fabric by rubbing magnets and creating a series of ones and zeros that can then be read with the use of a magnetometer to gain access to doors, computers, or even approve different types of payments. The team was able to successfully unlock a door by placing a passcode in a door lock and waving a magnetized shirt cuff in front of a magnetometer.

The team of scientists created belts, ties, wristbands using the technique. In a down note, after a long period of time, it’s possible for magnetic signals to become flaky, however, the good news is that the fabric can be re-magnetized several times.

Research conducted also showed that the magnetized fabric could be used for interactions with smartphones. Using a magnetized glove, they were able to obtain magnetic signals on a smartphone by creating different types of gesture. Each gesture indicated a different type of action, hence, it’s possible to interact with a smartphone without having the need to take them out of the pocket. When the experiment was conducted, the smartphone recognized six different types of gestures, right and left flick, upward and downward swipe, click and back click, at more than 90% accuracy. In the test, the glove was used to make specific gestures that sent a message to the smartphone either to play music or to stop playing.

The team of researchers is now seeking to develop stronger textile fabric capable of generating a stronger magnetic field and store a higher quantity of data. The research is being funded by Google, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.

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