Again forgot the password for the office computer or the key card for the door? This is no longer a problem. At least for those who wear a certain T-shirt. Because, according to researchers at the University of Washington, our clothes will become password memory in the future.
Pretty much all garments should be really smart in the coming years. At least when it comes to fashion tech developers and designers. However, a whole phone does not have to be invisibly sewn into the jacket, or a pair of jogging pants with sensors must continuously record our movement pattern and running speed.
A research group at the University of Washington intends to have intelligent garments filled with comparatively casual but already day-to-day functions, thus making our digital life a bit more comfortable. They want to have found a way to turn clothes into a portable password store.
The engineers and IT researchers around Shyam Gollakota from Networks and Mobile Systems Lab have developed Smart Fabrics intelligent substances. This is electrically conductive yarn, as it is already used for touch-sensitive gloves.
By treatment with permanent magnets, the material develops ferromagnetic properties. So it can work like magnetic tapes or floppy disks and record digital data. Although only comparatively small amounts of data could be loaded onto the fabric – enough to accommodate passwords or access data.
A permanent power supply by batteries would not be necessary for conservation. In a series of tests, the developers were already able to load chains of binary codes as positive and negative charges into individual pieces of fabric. These can be read out with commercially available magnetometers.
In a test, the IT researchers have entered a digital key in the sleeve of a shirt and thus opened an electric door lock with a suitable reader. Likewise, they have made a tie, a belt and a bracelet from the smart fabric.
The data strings were successfully read with the integrated magnetometer of a Nexus 5X. In a glove, the scientists have sewn parts of the substance in the fingertips again. It would have succeeded by the relatively strong magnetization as a non-contact motion control for a smartphone.
If it comes to Shyam Gollakota, the possibilities of use would be manifold. Because magnetized material could store data stored in just about any garment – and that’s very cheap compared to RFID chips and other technologies.
Wash, an iron or a tour in the dryer would not harm the data. However, magnetic charge loses 28 to 36 percent in strength over a week. This also reduces the readability and consistency of the data strings. “However, the fabric parts have never completely demagnetized,” the researchers write in their study. “Even after a few months, a magnetic field was still detectable.”
Likewise, the original strength would be restored by re-treatment with permanent magnets. Thus, T-shirts or work suits in the future could indeed function as a key card. That a T-shirt but can soon represent a real alternative to 1Password or similar tools? That’s rather doubtful. It would not be a safe place to keep our passwords if it is enough to wipe a lock, open a door or unlock a computer.