Textile industry’s tech ideas will soon be presented to apparel makers, semiconductor companies, universities and the United States Department of Defense to figure out ways to make computers into threats for “smart garments” and other connected cloths for people living in a material world.
Like many things in tech these days, it is not as weird as it might sound, according to the NEWSSTAND. Last year’s New York Fashion Week included dresses with mechanical tech devices that reacted to their wearers’ emotional states and sports bras with cooling vents that opened if the wearer got hot. Many people already use wearable technology in the industry, such as smart watches and activity trackers.
After decades of decline, the U.S. textile and apparel industry is growing again and many factories are competing with low-wage operations in countries like China. The industry has reinvented itself using technology but also employing far fewer people than in the past.
Some of the early uses for smart textiles include sensor threads in mattresses that track sleep habits, or battle clothing that can baffle night vision goggles — or camouflage the wearer by merging the color of the cloth with the look of the surroundings.
That last part is not as strange as it seems for the textile industry’s tech idea. The government has, for some years, studied the masking techniques of cephalopods, a group that includes octopuses and squid, which are nature’s masters of disguise.
The American textile industry is getting help in its revival by these ideas and other initiatives, which for decades has seen jobs lost to automation and cheaper overseas manufacturing. The goal, according to the project proposal, is 50,000 jobs over 10 years in a number of industries.
It is unlikely that the bulk of those jobs will be anything like traditional textile work. Most tech manufacturing is an exacting affair, often carried out in clean rooms where robots are preferred to humans. Moreover, even in China, where labor is cheap, assembly work is increasingly done by computer-driven machines.
Perhaps there is some protectionist comfort in that outcome: The United States will be taking jobs from Chinese robots that American robots can do better.
The textile industry’s tech ideas are helping to bridge the wage gap between labor-intensive factories overseas that pay workers only a few dollars a day and this North Carolina plant where about 100 employees make between $10 and $20 an hour.