The flowered tablecloth in a retro pattern contains both a drum set and piano keys which are fully functional, although they are only printed on the fabric! The secret is textile sensors. The cloth features a yarn that is made from conductive fibres and which converts touch into electrical signals. These are transmitted to a programmed chip, which in turn produces the sound of your favourite instrument – or whatever sound you like!
The idea for the musical cloth originated with Smart Textiles researchers Mats Johansson and Li Guo. As early as the 1980s, Mats had experimented with, among other things, piezoelectric buzzers – small electrical components – sewn into jeans which functioned as wearable drum sets. All you had to do to start a concert was slap your hands on your thighs! Since then, an idea has been in the back of his mind; an armchair, the seat cushion of which you can, when you are tired of resting, turn over and use to let loose on a digital drum set that is integrated into the textile of its underside. Li Guo wrote her doctoral thesis on textile sensors made of conductive fibres, and her research involves, among other things, integrating them into garments in order to monitor a person’s health. When Mats’s idea met Li’s research, it grew from a rhythmic armchair into a musical tablecloth.
A tablecloth that one can play may seem to be purely for fun, or to show what it is possible to achieve. There are, however, many future application areas which are far more significant. Textile sensors may come to be used in pedagogical contexts, including preschools and schools, as well as in assistive devices. The technology is far from fully developed but according to Li and Mars textile sesors will be available in a large number of application areas, and many of these will change our ways of using textiles and technology, as well as perhaps our attitude towards them.