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Before e-textiles become more than a fascinating niche, their creators must develop materials both conductive and flexible–no easy task, explains Orth. “Conductors by nature aren’t flexible,” she says. “and they rely on material that isn’t flexible. Right now the model for solving it is traditional electronics and that’s the problem. There’s no reason why it can’t happen, but it won’t be easy.”

Another difficulty is money. In August 2001 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency issued a request for e-textile proposals that could have led to grants of  tens of millions of dollars over the next five years. But by that December the funding vanished, a major blow to e-textile development. “Until DARPA puts funding in, it will be hard to accomplish the big project goals,” says Lockheed Martin’s Saultz. “If you really want to do large-scale programs, you need Department of Defense funding.”

Meanwhile, Orth and her small team continue to develop the color-changing cloth prototype, which they hope to have ready next year. Both she and Reubin have high hopes for e-textiles and are confident that as the public and funding organizations realize the potential of smart fabrics, the research money and requests for proposals will roll in. “But,” she cautions, “e-textiles is in its infancy. Anyone who tells you it isn’t is lying.”

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