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Fab New Materials

Sit in a new car, and I wonder what materials you’ll find yourself seated on.  Cleverly designed materials can ward off smells, resist stains, and even repel hair and other loose bits so that the vacuum cleaner can suck them away easily when it comes time for giving the car a good clean out.  But take this a step further and imagine seats that have a high-tech fabric that can be part of a car’s communications system – think of this as being a bit like a voice control.  Perplexed?

Recently, researchers at a polytechnic in Montreal have been intrigued by how fabrics could be used as part of a control structure for onboard computers and other systems.  What some of the researchers have come up with is fascinating.  They have devised a touch-sensitive fabric that reacts to finger swipes or touches.  I guess some people could see this coming with touch screen computers, and such.  It’s amazing that the fabric has been implanted with electronics, hooked up to software and, hey presto, you’ve got a surface that receives and gives messages.

The touch sensitive fabric could be used in a car as a potential smartphone system or it could even be used to control other car functions like the audio system.  The audio system, for example, could have the volume adjusted by swiping or touching the side bolster of the seat.

Seat fabric materials would still need to have that classy feel about them to give the car luxury appeal; however a polymer-based fibre would be woven into the fabric so that an electrical charge is maintained.  I assume this would still work for premium leather, cloth materials and a mixture of the two.  When touched, the ability of the fabric to store the charge and feed the message into the software system for the desired outcome still has a little too much fluctuation happening in the laboratory.  However, this is sure to be ironed out as the testing and refining work occurs.

BMW is interested in this technology.  That’s not overly surprising, as BMW has always been a leader in using new technology inside their cars – particularly with their flagship Seven Series cars.  A BMW spokesperson has said that they are looking at this type of technology for future application in their vehicles, so this is a big hint at what we will be seeing in cars of the future.

I can definitely see this type of technology being useful for electronic seat adjustment before the car is moving.  Onboard systems that require a little more precise input might be somewhat of a nightmare to control from the seat fabric; however I’m all for trying out new things.  It may, eventually, be a safer alternative to tap or touch your seat fabric while driving then to take your eyes off the road ahead to adjust something on your dash.  Voice Control (VC) has definitely been a huge leap forward, maybe Seat Of Your Pants Touch Control (SOYPTC) will be another abbreviation to add to my list of new car features!

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