Back to the Future inspired this solar-powered clothing

For several years now, we've seen promises of 'smart clothing' that combines circuitry with fashion to create literally wearable technology.

But powering these inventions is tricky. Batteries are heavy and don't like being washed. So researchers are working on textiles that can hold electric charge in the clothes themselves. 

The latest development comes from the University of Central Florida, where nanotechnologist Jayan Thomas has developed filaments that can be woven into textiles and have the ability to harvest and store solar energy.

“The idea came to me: We make energy-storage devices and we make solar cells in the labs. Why not combine these two devices together?” he said.

 Harvest and Store

The filaments take the form of flexible copper ribbons with a solar cell on one side and an energy-storing layer on the other. In testing, Thomas and his team was able to weave them into a square of yarn, which could then be used in jackets or other outerwear to harvest energy for attached devices.

“A major application could be with our military,” Thomas said. 

“When you think about our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, they’re walking in the sun. Some of them are carrying more than 30 pounds of batteries on their bodies. It is hard for the military to deliver batteries to these soldiers in this hostile environment. A garment like this can harvest and store energy at the same time if sunlight is available.”

Self-Lacing Nikes

Though he adds that the inspiration was actually the Back to the Future movies, specifically the self-lacing Nikes in the second film in the trilogy. 

“If you can develop self-charging clothes or textiles, you can realize those cinematic fantasies – that’s the cool thing,” said Thomas.

The full details of the discovery were published in Nature Communications.

Duncan Geere
Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.