Dropped calls, snail-slow internet and spotty service may all be headaches of the 21st century, but a study by Ohio State University researchers says a newfangled device sewn into clothes may put an end to wireless gadget woes.Using metallic thread, researchers secured antennas made of light and flexible layers of plastic film directly into clothing, with hotspots placed on the chest, back and both shoulders. A computer-controlled device placed in a belt then automatically honed in on whichever point received the best signal at that moment, successfully alternating points as the test subjects walked around transmission obstacles like doorways and walls, according to the journal report published in IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters.MORE: Dress for Your ChestLab tests revealed an impressive signal strength four times that of today’s standard military antenna.While the concept isn’t a new one—foot soldiers have long donned unwieldy antennas to maintain communication in times of war—the addition of a computer-controlled tracking device allows for far sleeker and smaller antennas, plus the hands-free bonus of not having to hold an antenna.According to the researchers, the intent of the study was to improve communication tools for soldiers and first-responders like fire fighters and police officers. But with lab workers playing with sewing machines to construct options, it begs the question: might your next Marc Jacobs bag come with sewn-in antenna technology that makes your iPhone run flawlessly?GALLERY: Fall Fashion for a Circle Body ShapeJohn Volakis, the Roy & Lois Chope Chair Professor and Director of the ElectroScience Laboratory at Ohio State, says it’s a bet he would take.
“Imagine a vest or shirt, or even a fancy ball gown made with this technology,” said Volakis, who toyed with a taffeta swatch embroidered with signal capability. “The antennas would be inconspicuous, and even attractive. People would want to wear them.”Designed to look like layers of flexible plastic, the antennas could seamlessly take on the appearance of reflective detailing on clothing. The variation that sews the antenna technology into an embroidery-like pattern holds seemingly endless creative possibilities.The cost of such a customized device would average around $200 at the outset for a completely outfitted model, though that price will likely come down significantly if put into mass production says Chi-Chih Chen, a research associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State.MORE: Jeans that fit, finally! In fact, things have already leapfrogged from the land of possibility to action. The brains behind the coding that coordinates the signals—doctoral student Gil-Young Lee—just announced plans to partner with antenna design company, Applied EM of Hampton, Va., to bring the product to market.Could futuristic antenna-laced fashions be close behind? We’d bet an iPad on it.