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Wearable, solar-powered electronics is just around the corner with new battery developments that allow the new technology to weave into clothing fibers or into watchbands.

This new battery development could usher in a new era of “wearable electronics.”

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Electronic textiles have the potential to integrate smartphone functions into clothes, eyeglasses, watches and materials worn on the skin, said researchers Taek-Soo Kim, Jung-Yong Lee, Jang Wook Choi of the KAIST Institute NanoCentury at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon, South Korea.

Possibilities range from the practical, which allows athletes to monitor vital signs to the aesthetic, such as lighting up patterns on clothing.

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The bottleneck slowing progress toward development of a wider range of flexible e-fabrics and materials is the battery technology required to power them. Current wearable electronics, such as smartwatches and Google Glass, still require a charger with a cord, and already-developed textile batteries are costly and impractical.

To unlink smart technology from the wall socket, the team had to rethink what materials work best for use in a flexible, rechargeable battery that’s also inexpensive.

They tested unconventional materials and found they could coat polyester yarn with nickel and then carbon, and use polyurethane as a binder and separator to produce a flexible battery that kept working, even after being folded and unfolded many times. They also integrated lightweight solar cells to recharge the battery without disassembling it from clothing or requiring the wearer to plug in.

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