For many years engineers have been trying to perfect "smart fabric," and Eleksen may be on the verge of reaching the finish line. Eleksen has created a fabric with electrical properties that allows the creation of control panels integrated into items like clothing and backpacks.
The ElekTex technology is actual fabric. You can fold it, wad it up, wash it or dry clean it. But this fabric has special properties. When hooked to a small piece of electronics to "read" the fabric, it is possible to sense X/Y coordinates, the amount of pressure being applied and even motion of touch across the fabric.
Eleksen demonstrated several jackets with controls for MP3 players and iPods integrated into the sleeve or the inner pocket of the jacket, as well as backpacks with controls integrated into the straps. They also had a fabric Bluetooth keyboard that you could roll up and stick in your pocket.
To create these different products, ElekTex uses a three-layer fabric sandwich. The top layer has conductive stripes impregnated into the fabric in one direction. The bottom layer has conductive stripes as well, oriented 90 degrees around from the top layer. Then a semi-conductive middle layer is a mesh that separates the top and bottom layers. When you press on the top layer, it makes a connection through the mesh to the bottom layer and that gives the controller an X/Y coordinate.
The fabric keyboard seemed especially cool for people needing to type a lot on their PDAs or e-mail cell phones. You simply pull the keyboard out of your pocket, unroll it and turn it on. Bluetooth wirelessly connects the keyboard to the PDA, and you're typing.
Check out Marshall Brain's video tour of the Elecksen booth.
For more information, visit ElekTex.com.