AFFOA Unveils the First Fabric that Can Communicate

The Back Story

The Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) is leading the innovation of “connected” fabrics that can gather, store, and share data for commercial and military applications. By collaborating with its public- and private-sector members, the non-profit institute is enabling the design and high-volume manufacturing of game-changing fibers and textiles.

With the grand opening of its $10M prototyping facility approaching quickly, AFFOA required rapid design capabilities to demonstrate its “Fabric LiFi” product platform, the world’s first fabric light-based communications system. Fabric LiFi uses LED-based lighting systems to broadcast audio and other data to photo-detecting fibers woven into the cap.

At the event, attendees wearing Fabric LiFi-enabled baseball caps with built-in ear buds would hear an audio tour streamed from four ceiling-mounted LED transmitters. Each LED transmitter would broadcast different content, and the audio streams would be synched for a seamless user experience.

The Approach

For the Fabric Li-Fi audio tour application, Boston Engineering developed a custom LED driver with onboard audio storage and streaming, designed enclosures (packaging), designed both wired and wireless LED controls, optimized power consumption (battery management), and integrated components and technologies for high performance and reliability. Within three months, Boston Engineering completed:

  • Proof of concept development for the Fabric Li-Fi receiver
  • Prototype refinement for the receiver, transmitter, and wireless control
  • In-house product manufacturing and assembly for the entire system
Rapid Design for Fabric LiFi Audio Tour Demonstration

The Impact

The June 2017 grand opening of AFFOA’s Cambridge, Mass. facility featured demonstrations of Fabric LiFi and a second AFFOA product platform called LOOKS, the first programmable backpack. The successful Fabric Li-Fi demonstration highlights the opportunity to develop myriad applications for this technology such as:

  • Sporting event attendees receiving detailed, real-time commentary based on their language and team preferences
  • Hospitals providing patients and other visitors with indoor tracking and navigation in areas where GPS does not penetrate or lacks the necessary spatial resolution
  • Cyclists and runners wearing “smart” clothing to increase nighttime safety – collision avoidance
Watch AFFOA’s Fabric LiFi Product Platform Overview Video

AFFOA members from industry, academia, and non-profits attended the event. The event also featured notable speakers Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker; U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren; U.S. Representatives Niki Tsongas and Joe Kennedy; United States Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics James MacStravic; New Balance CEO Robert DeMartini; MIT President L. Rafael Reif; and AFFOA CEO and MIT Professor Yoel Fink.

AFFOA’s Cambridge, Mass. facility provides prototyping and pilot production facilities, incubates start-ups, and offers manufacturing workforce education. Nationally, AFFOA works with the domestic fiber and textile industry, academic research centers, and consumer product companies to establish a national network of Industrial Members, Fabric Innovation Network (FIN) Partners, Startup Incubators, and University Hubs.

Visit AFFOA online to learn more about the organization and membership opportunities.