Flexible electronic textiles to fit automotive, robotic and wearable applications
Traditional FR4 PCBs and wires do not work for all applications requiring electronics, especially those with soft surfaces. But even flex PCBs and other flexible circuits aren’t always flexible enough for certain use cases.
LOOMIA Electronic Layer (LEL) is used to make electronic textiles that easily conform to soft surfaces. It is more conformable than flex PCBs or other flexible electronic components and can combine multiple functions into a single circuit, said Madison Maxey, Founder and CEO of LOOMIA Technologies, in an interview with Design News. The flexibility of LEL is similar to ink printed on thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), although it is not printed.
The technology is particularly suited to flexible heating elements as well as pressure sensors and dies, Maxey said. Applications include heating and human-machine interfaces (HMIs) or “smart surfaces” in automobiles. Others are end-effector detection and wiring in robotics; multiple types of cabling, including healthcare and wellness use cases such as wearable devices; in outdoor equipment and sportswear; and for heating and lighting.
“As wiring, LEL is typically used for wearable technology applications where you’re trying to connect two sensors in a soft and flexible way,” Maxey said. Garments made with the LEL can be set up to be sewn, washed, and even dried in a dryer when optimized for sturdiness. Other LEL stacks may be optimized for lamination or at lower cost.
Electronic textiles for car seats and robot hands
A recent and widely publicized application of LEL was heating car seats in the AKXY2 concept car by Japanese materials company Asahei Kasei Group. The design of this car emphasizes sustainability in the automotive life cycle to reduce its environmental impact, customer satisfaction, such as pleasing appearance and physical comfort, and improving safety. passengers. A third objective was to demonstrate the various benefits that cars bring to society, such as creating mobile or fixed private space for individuals during pandemic-related shutdowns.
Surface heating has become important in considering the transition to electric vehicles, Maxey said in a statement, so LOOMIA worked with Asahei-Kasei to develop the LEL as a fast-heating seat component. In an earlier concept car from Hyundai, the LEL was custom-designed for both heating and a user interface.
LEL technology was also used in a 2020 project by renowned robotics designer Festo. With this technology, the Bionic Mobile Assistant could be fitted with a hand that gives the robot a sense of touch, via LOOMIA’s 113-point analog pressure matrix.
LOOMIA also designed and manufactured the robot hand glove and delivered a fully integrated glove and sensor system that can be plugged directly into the robotic arm’s control unit.
Soon available for textiles
Exactly how the LEL works is proprietary, but Maxey said it uses a mesh conductor, which provides low resistance, good mechanical stability, and more stress and strain without cracking, in other words, toughness that is generally not possible with ink printed on TPU.
The fact that it is not printed allows for low resistance conductors that do not easily change their resistance when stretched, depending on the data sheet. Although the technology is not inherently stretchable, it can become stretchable when arranged in a serpentine geometry.
“In the field of heating and lighting for outdoor equipment, we are currently developing a heated glove insert and heated sleeve for use in high-touch handwear for commercial and military customers,” Maxey said. . “These will give users warmth and great dexterity in cold environments.”
The company is also doing a lot of new work in automotive interiors, including smart surfaces and smart design for aesthetic purposes, like new seat designs, and functional purposes, like comfort, she said. “We’re also working on some consumer products that we can’t discuss. But in many cases, our technology is an enabler.”