April 26, 2002 7:05 AM PDT

Infineon's fashion trend: Wearable chips

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Chipmaker Infineon Technologies is weaving its products into an entirely new fashion industry: high-tech textiles.

The Munich-based company on Friday showed off new prototype wearable chips that it says can be sewn directly into clothing and other textiles.

Infineon's Emerging Technologies Group has developed chips, sensors and packages that allow the processors to be woven into fabrics. Special materials woven into the fabric are used to connect the chips and sensors.

Although the company did not announce plans to put these technologies into production, it said possible uses for the chips could be found in areas including entertainment, communications, health care and security.

Infineon, best known for its DRAM chips, has a large presence in the semiconductor market as a whole. It sells chips for devices ranging from smart cards to automotive electronics and biometrics.

However, new markets such as wearable electronics show great promise for additional revenue outside of its current lines of business, the company said.

"The further evolution of our information society will make everyday electronic applications ever more invisible and natural," said S?nke Mehrgardt, Infineon's chief technology officer, in a statement. "The enabling technologies we presented today are a major step toward this objective."

A wide range of companies are researching wearable electronics and so-called plastic chips, which could lead to flat screens that consumers can fold, intelligent labels, cheap solar cells and a plethora of other devices.

An MP3 jacket
One new application for Infineon's wearable electronics, for example, could be for personal entertainment, the company said.

Infineon has developed a prototype MP3 player that can be sewn directly into shirts or jackets. The player, consisting of a chip, a removable battery/data storage card and a flexible keyboard, includes an earpiece for listening to music.

Infineon will show off an MP3 player "jacket" at Avantex, a kind of fashion show for high-tech textiles, next month in Frankfurt.

The company also said that similar wearable chips could create clothing used in medical applications to monitor patients' vital signs.

These applications would use tiny chips, which convert a person's body heat into electrical energy, to store information or transmit data wirelessly via a built-in antenna.

 

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