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1/4/2006
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Is That A Nano In Your Pocket?

Several companies have separately developed thin conductive materials that manufacturers can sew into shirts, pants, jackets, and other consumer products to house electronic controls for devices. The materials and garments are being showcased at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

Several companies have separately developed thin conductive materials that manufacturers can sew into shirts, pants, jackets, and other consumer products to house electronic controls for devices. The materials and garments are being showcased at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

Elam EL Industries Ltd. and Eleksen Ltd. are two companies that have separately developed thin conductive materials that manufacturers can sew into shirts, pants, jackets, and other consumer products from hiking equipment to camping gear. The products are dry-cleanable and machine-washable. Geared toward both the consumer and the industrial markets, the idea is to integrate technology into apparel. Everything from light sources to electronic controls for devices such as bar-code scanners, computers, walkie-talkies, cellular phones, MP3 players and other mobile devices is available.

"The real challenge is educating consumer and industrial markets about smart fabrics," said John Collins, vice president of marketing and business development at Eleksen, which initially focused on the consumer market.

Industrial applications are on Eleksen's roadmap. It is working with a U.S. manufacturer for industrial products to integrate handheld-device capabilities into wearable applications where the keypad is embedded into a shirt or a glove.

Research firm Venture Development Corp. (VDC) forecasts the global wearable electronics market will reach $535 million in 2007, up from $360 million last year. The estimates include general-purpose computing and communications wearable systems, such as finger-worn bar code or radio frequency identification (RFID) scanners and other warehouse applications, as well as the biophysical wearable market for monitoring devices, such as shirts and armbands to measure heart rate, blood pressure, and sleep state.

And although VDC is reluctant to forecast the infotainment-wearable market, such as conductive fabrics for Apple Computer Inc.'s iPods and Bluetooth headsets, Eleksen in 2005 sold more than 80,000 sensors for wearable apparel and sporting goods that manufacturers embedded into jackets and backpacks. Some sensors were sold to Kenp Inc. and sewn into the Kenpo Jacket for iPod that were sold through Macy's, Dillard's, and CompUSA during the 2005 holiday season.

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