There are wires and sensors in there, connected by thin strips of steel. With small processors connected every few yards, the cloth is actually an extremely flexible, wearable computer. "I can wrap it like this ... and it will still work," Martin said, twisting the fabric around his torso like a beach towel.
Jones' and Martin's "eTextile," which is being developed with the University of Southern California, is a prototype of a new breed of fabric that is woven not only for looks, but for computing power...
The idea, Jones said, is to turn tents, tarps, parachutes anything made of fabric into some kind of computer. The technology could someday help the army track enemy troops and tanks, detect hazardous chemicals or change color for camouflage.
Chris Kahn, "Is it a shirt or a computer? In future, it will be hard to tell," The Associated Press, November 27, 2002
Rick Merritt, "Switching fabric Darpa spins wearable computer initiative," Electronic Engineering Times, November 5, 2001
A recent issue of American Demographics magazine featured an interview with an e-textile researcher. This person has a doctorate from MIT, so you have to assume she's pretty smart. However, when asked about the future applications of e-textiles, she mentioned "shoes that tell you how fast you're going," "jackets that tell you what the temperature, barometric pressure or smog level is," and, my personal favorite, "a baseball hat that tells you the score of the game." These ideas are so comically useless that I had to double-check that I wasn't reading the latest issue of The Onion. Thankfully, it appears that most other e-textile gearheads have their eyes on more practical prizes.