The global market for smart fabrics and interactive textiles is projected to reach $2.6 billion by the year 2017, according to a new report from Global Industry Analysts Inc. Growth will be primarily driven by developments in material science and fiber technologies (i.e., nanofibers, conductive pressure-sensing fabrics and other hybrid fabrics), as well as the growing miniaturization of electronics, increasing use of electronic textiles in the emerging generation of wearable computing smart products, and rapid expansion into newer application areas.

Textile structures can represent an attractive platform for integration and encapsulation of sensing, computing, and communication capabilities, in furtherance of the envisioned goal of pervasive computing. The focus on building an intelligent environment into everyday items is leading to the rapid evolution of wearable computers and electronics, which is thus poised to amply benefit the market for smart fabrics and interactive textiles. The market also reportedly stands to benefit from technology developments and innovations in the field of integration of electronic devices into textiles at the yarn level, as well as performance and functionality improvements in integrated textile sensors, switches, interconnects etc.

Noteworthy innovations in the marketplace to date include photovoltaic fabrics for use in photovoltaic structures such as solar-powered tents, canopy covers for parking lots, charging stations, awnings for solar shadings, sailboat sails, truck tarp, boat covers, etc.; and illuminated fashion for the consumer market comprising illuminated textiles containing hundreds of LEDs embroidered onto the fabric. Other innovations include smart bandages based on stretchable circuit technology to detect the presence of specific proteins in the wound, thereby monitoring the healing process.

In the military end-use sector, demand for smart fabrics and interactive textiles hinges upon the spending outlook of governments worldwide; Europe’s debt crisis is, not surprisingly, casting a long shadow of worry. Also, the U.S. national debt is reaching a symbolic high, almost equaling the value of goods and services produced in the economy. The ensuing debate over widening government deficits and the need for spending cuts is likely to result in possible shrinkage in defense budgets in the U.S. and Europe. New spending limits will likely lower the defense budget baseline in U.S. and Europe, thereby directly impacting defense spending on supplies such as protective clothing, blankets, camping equipment, arms and ammunitions, among others. 

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