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The 'smart' clothing that could help stop your phone battery from dying and thwart hackers

The 'metamaterial' conducts radio waves over the surface of clothing
The 'metamaterial' conducts radio waves over the surface of clothing

Researchers have developed new "smart clothing" which could boost battery lives for phones and prevent criminals from hijacking devices. 

The scientists from the National University of Singapore have created a fabric, known as "metamaterial", which can conduct radio waves like Bluetooth and WiFi. 

Strips of the fabric can be clipped onto clothing, allowing signals to glide around the curves of a person, rather than being sent out from phones and wearable gadgets into the space around them.

What this would mean is that gadgets could connect with each other with 1,000 times greater signal strength – something which would help extend the battery life of those devices, given they would have to work a lot less hard to talk to each other. 

Assistant professor John Ho, who is heading up the research team, said: "If you look at any wearable devices, most of the battery life goes into sending wireless signals. Wireless is very power hungry. An example of this is, if you turn your phone onto Airplane Mode, it just lasts a lot longer.

"By increasing the connectivity between two devices on a person, you can then use 1,000 times less power, which can improve your battery life." 

Mr Ho said the technology may also allow for wearable devices to be battery-free in the future, as they could take their power, over the WiFi signal, from something like a smartphone. 

The "smart clothing" would also keep devices "more secure", by trapping the signals close to the body and meaning "people can't listen in". 

It would make wearable devices "physically not hackable", he said. "The signal just doesn't leave the body."

Such technology would likely become more important, as "people put more and more health sensors onto their body", Mr Ho said. 

"You don't want to be measuring your heart, and have it going out in an unencrypted form that other people are listening into."

The NHS earlier this week announced that it was giving out wearable devices to people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and, in Scotland, one NHS trust launched a trial to use wearable devices to monitor patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

According to a survey by Ericsson, around half of people who currently own a wearable device, which can be everything from augmented reality glasses to hearing aids, acknowledge it is very likely they are vulnerable to hacking, data breaches and viruses.

Mr Ho said the researchers were in talks with a number of companies making health-related wearable devices. He said two major markets for the smart clothing would be in healthcare and in sports.