Could we be even more surrounded by devices in the future than we currently are? At the rate wearable technology keeps gaining popularity, it seems like we most certainly will. In September 2018, 12 scientists from the universities of Exeter, Aveiro, Lisbon, and CenTexBel collaborated on “Flexible Electronics,” a research paper published in nature that explores the ways graphene could be used to make more flexible wearables. Smart textiles like this one will revolutionize the way we use certain technologies, eliminating the need for external gadgets and offering users a lot more personal comfort.

The lattice-like atomic make-up of graphene.

There is no known substance that’s as small, flexible, and conductive as graphene. That’s why it works so well for creating digital textiles, and why it can be integrated into products from the very beginning of the manufacturing process. It all starts with the pouring of a chemical vapor onto copper foil, from which a nanolayer of graphene is formed. The graphene is then taken from the foil and woven into polypropylene fibers. Its special coating technically makes graphene-based textiles “smart” — not to mention extremely lightweight.

The lattice-like atomic make-up of graphene.

Image courtesy of the National Science Foundation

Professor Monica Craciun from the University of Exeter has previously expressed optimism towards this advanced type of wearable technology, explaining that “the possibilities for its use are endless, including textile GPS systems, biomedical monitoring, personal security, or even communication tools for those who are sensory impaired. The only limits are really within our own imaginations.”

In the field of medicine alone, digital textiles could be used in numerous screening and diagnostic tests. On a larger scale, there are all the fitness trackers and smart watches dominating the consumer market. A digital textile that’s so light and smooth that the user doesn’t even know it’s there could only serve to further their success. The real challenge here would be breaking into the fashion industry, as products that attempt to blend style and technology are not always well-received. It’s hard to imagine that even something as innovative as graphene would not pave the way for a ton of design flops.

All of the advancement that graphene offers is promising, and it could help solve the now-common nuisance of owning too many devices. Some will inevitably see this as one more step towards a dystopian future in which smart technology transcends the fashion industry and starts embedding itself into out bodies — but for now, it’s safe to say we’re nowhere near that becoming a reality. What the development of graphene shows us above all else is that we are still concerned with finding ways to coexist with technology without it intruding too much in our everyday lives.