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Wearable smart clothing patch can provide personal heating and cooling

A team of engineers at the University of California San Diego has designed wearable technology that will provide personalized heating and cooling. A flexible patch adjusts the skin to a desirable temperature that can be maintained regardless of ambient temperature changes.

The device is powered by a stretchable battery pack and was designed to be easily integrated into clothing and comfortable to wear. According to the researchers, the patches would reduce the need for heating and air conditioning and could lower energy usage.

Study lead author Renkun Chen is a professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

“This type of device can improve your personal thermal comfort whether you are commuting on a hot day or feeling too cold in your office,” said Professor Chen. “If wearing this device can make you feel comfortable within a wider temperature range, you won’t need to turn down the thermostat as much in the summer or crank up the heat as much in the winter.”

Armband embedded with flexible battery pack (left), stretchable circuit (center), and cooling/heating patch (right).
Image Credit: David Baillot/UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

Professor Chen noted, for example, that keeping a building’s set temperature 12 degrees higher during the summer could cut cooling costs by about 70 percent.

The patch is made of thermoelectric alloys positioned between stretchy elastomer sheets. It physically cools or heats the skin to a specific temperature selected by the user.

“You could place this on spots that tend to warm up or cool down faster than the rest of the body, such as the back, neck, feet or arms, in order to stay comfortable when it gets too hot or cold,” said study first author Sahngki Hong.

Using a mesh armband on a male volunteer, the researchers tested a prototype in a temperature-controlled environment. The patch cooled the tester’s skin to a set temperature of 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit in just two minutes. The device also maintained this temperature as the ambient temperature shifted between 71.6 and 96.8 degrees.

“We’ve solved the fundamental problems, now we’re tackling the big engineering issues – the electronics, hardware, and developing a mobile app to control the temperature,” said Professor Chen.

The ultimate goal is to combine multiple patches together to create smart clothing for personalized cooling and heating. The researchers are now working to construct a prototype cooling and heating vest, and they hope to get the technology on the market in a few years.

The study is published in the journal Science Advances.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Main Image Credit: David Baillot/UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

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