How and why standardization will benefit the e-textile industry: Page 4 of 9

April 14, 2020 // By William G. Wong
In e-textiles, developers spend too much time finding out which component works with which. What the industry needs is a collaborative effort in the electronics and textile industries to work toward common standards.

So, we can agree on the need for standardization in e-textile. What’s necessary to move forward?

What e-textile needs is a collaborative effort, in both the electronics industry and textile industry, to work toward common solutions for interconnects, data and power buses, wearable processing units, soft displaying, and energy harvesting. An e-textile developer should in principle only be concerned about sensor integration, the industrial design of body-worn devices, and embedded software for the applications.

The big question is, of course, how to bring about such common solutions. In the 1980s, Bill Gates formed a partnership with IBM to bundle Microsoft's operating system with IBM computers. That was a tremendous breakthrough for the whole software industry, because now you didn't need to manage program execution, files access, display interface, and devices like the keyboard and mouse.

A similar revolution is needed for e-textiles, but it’s not going to happen in a startup, like Microsoft was at the time, because the cost is too high for a single company. Also, many skills like industrial design, electronics design, textile engineering and embedded software are necessary to make it happen. It is more a merger of existing technologies rather than a completely new approach, like the Microsoft/IBM combination was. Such a merger will not take place overnight. It will be an incremental process rather than a paradigm shift, and a process that’s hard to predict, given the number of players involved.

With Bluetooth, inventor Ericsson organized a Special Interest Group with four other companies initially, who pooled their knowledge and experience and added to the Bluetooth technology through the years. This helped develop and refine Bluetooth technology, and it got even better when more companies came on board and helped establish the standard.

On the hardware side, USB is an example of a standard solution that gained permanence in the market thanks to collaboration between producers of computers and producers of devices. Growth of USB was also greatly helped by the release of Windows 98 and the adoption of USB by Apple, which dropped all other connections in favor of a USB port with the introduction of the first iMac.

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