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Leave the wallet at home, soon you may be able to pay with a swipe of the sleeve

UC Irvine researchers have discovered a way for people to pay for items with their clothing.
UC Irvine researchers have discovered a way for people to pay for items with their clothing. Pictured are Peter Tseng, left, and Amirhossein Hajiaghajani.
(Courtesy of UC Irvine)

Instead of having to dig through your wallet to find your credit card, in the very near future you may be able to pay for items just by brushing your sleeve near a card reader.

In a recently published paper, UC Irvine researchers detailed how they developed a flexible textile that allows clothing to communicate with nearby devices. The technology advances near-field technology.

“If you’ve held your smartphone or charge card close to a reader to pay for a purchase, you have taken advantage of near-field signaling technologies,” said co-author Peter Tseng, UCI assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science. “Our fabrics work on the same principle, but we’ve extended the range significantly.

“This means you could potentially keep your phone in your pocket, and just by brushing your body against other textiles or readers, power and information can be transferred to and from your device.”

UC Irvine researchers have discovered a way for people to pay for items with their clothing.
(Courtesy of UC Irvine)

Tseng said in a phone interview that the major problem with near-field technology has been its short range, to the point of where you have to be right next to the reader. But the researchers’ textile system acts as an intermediary between a phone and reader, extending the range to more than 4 feet. Tseng said the “relay” is flexible and can crisscross the body.

For the fashionable folks among us, clothing style doesn’t have to suffer with the integration of the new technology. Tseng said that any number of unique designs can be placed over it.

“So that’s the idea, is that you embed these underneath existing designs, or alongside existing designs, and it acts to kind of mediate or drive the signal across your body,” Tseng said, adding that he envisions clothing companies integrating the technology into their products.

Lead author Amirhossein Hajiaghajani, a UCI Ph.D student in electrical engineering and computer science, said the textiles are meant to be integrated into interesting designs.

“We want to create designs that not only are cool and inexpensive but can reduce the burden that modern electronics can bring to our lives,” Hajiaghajani said.

Aside from no-touch payments, the new technology could have a number of applications. People could no longer need a key or separate device to unlock their cars. Employees could also use their clothes rather than a badge to unlock facility gates.

Tseng said there a lot of near-field technology medical devices that this new application could also improve. Patients may no longer need so many sensors attached to their bodies. Instead, a hospital gown outfitted with the textile could keep track of a patient’s vitals.

Another benefit to the textile is it’s inexpensive to make, using etched foils of copper and aluminum.

“The way we built it was so cheap,” Tseng said. “You can build it at home.”

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