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"Security Thread" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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A new type of smart fabric developed at the University of Washington could pave the way for jackets that store invisible passcodes and open the door to your apartment or office. By leveraging the previously unexplored magnetic properties of off-the-shelf conductive thread, they found that data can be read using an instrument embedded in existing smartphones to enable navigation apps.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Opening and clothing.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

I was thinking, "you know, we just aren't expecting enough out of our clothing. You wash it, fold it, take care of it. It should do more than just hang from our bodies." University of Washington (UW) researchers must have had the same thought with a new clothing technology that can store data and passcodes, right in the threads.

There'd be no more fumbling for your key card in your jacket. Your jacket is the key card. Since it's done using threads that can be magnetized to store data, there are no electronics or batteries to carry around. Think of your data being stored on a "thread drive" that you can wash, dry and iron -- yeah, like I'm gonna iron something and it keeps working, only needing occasional re-magnetization. The data can be read by the same inexpensive device used in smart phones for navigation. (Sound effect: sewing machine) The team fashioned a number of garments and accessories on a regular sewing machine.

(Sound effect: runway music) (Sound effect: fashion mc voice on mic) "heading down the runway, ladies and gentlemen, the complete line of UW fashion accessories for the security-conscious: The smart-fabric tie, (Sound effect: applause) belt, (Sound effect: applause) necklace (Sound effect: applause) and wristband. (Sound effect: applause) All tested under real conditions. They could be destined to open some new doors in the fashion and tech arenas." (Sound effect: applause)

Hey, I just realized, with smart fabric you could have an actual "security blanket."

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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