Eindhoven’s High Tech Campus has produced something revolutionary again. Researchers from Holst Centre, imec and CMST have demonstrated the world’s first stretchable and conformable thin-film transistor driven LED display laminated into textiles. This paves the way to wearable displays in clothing providing users with feedback.

Wearable devices such as healthcare monitors and activity trackers are now a part of everyday life for many people. Today’s wearables are separate devices that users must remember to wear. The next step forward will be to integrate these devices into our clothing. Doing so will make wearable devices less obtrusive and more comfortable, encouraging people to use them more regularly and, hence, increasing the quality of data collected. A key step towards realizing wearable devices in clothing is creating displays that can be integrated into textiles to allow interaction with the wearer.

Wearable devices allow people to monitor their fitness and health so they can live full and active lives for longer, says Edsger Smits, Senior research scientist at Holst Centre. “But to maximize the benefits wearables can offer, they need to be able to provide feedback on what users are doing as well as measuring it. By combining imec’s patented stretch technology with our expertise in active-matrix backplanes and integrating electronics into fabrics, we’ve taken a giant step towards that possibility.”

The conformable display is very thin and mechanically stretchable. A fine-grain version of the proven meander interconnect technology was developed by the CMST lab at Ghent University and Holst Centre to link standard (rigid) LEDs into a flexible and stretchable display. The LED displays are fabricated on a polyimide substrate and encapsulated in rubber, allowing the displays to be laminated in to textiles that can be washed. Importantly, the technology uses fabrication steps that are known to the manufacturing industry, enabling rapid industrialization.