From Cotton Town to Techtropolis

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Manchester. The birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution was driven by people determined to find ways to make more, make faster and make better. Manchester’s tradition for invention then continued through innovators like Alan Turing, father of the modern computer working at the University of Manchester, and Mr Rolls and Mr Royce, who first met in the city’s Midland Hotel to hatch plans for their world-famous luxury car business.

Across two centuries this city in North West England was also the global centre for the cotton trade and the heart of the UK’s textile industry. It’s the city where textiles and technology have always walked hand in hand.

Fast forward to the present day and textile production has started up in Manchester once more. For the first time in decades cotton is being produced here, using the very latest technologies to produce high quality fabrics within a traditional Victorian cotton mill.

But now there’s a new kid on the block. Graphene. A single atom thick, the strongest known material that’s also flexible and stretchy, and it was born here in Manchester.

When graphene was isolated in 2004 by Prof. Andre Geim and Prof. Kostya Novoselov, working at the University of Manchester, much was made of its potential to disrupt current technologies with almost endless possibilities for its application. Graphene’s flexibility and highly conductive properties offered potential for a new era of smart textiles, but production was costly and so limited to use in very high-end sports clothing.

More recently Prof. Novoselov, along with Dr Nazmul Karim, has made another breakthrough that offers the opportunity to produce washable, flexible, inexpensive and bio-degradable graphene yarns on a large scale. Developed within the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC) at the University, it allows commercial production of 150 metres of graphene yarn per minute. It can be produced using existing textile machinery too, helping to keep production costs down.

We are now on the brink of a brand-new world where smart clothes, or wearable e-textiles, will be part of our everyday wardrobes. Along with the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), our team at Prevayl™ are pioneering the use of graphene with multiple sensors within style-led garments. They will offer a multitude of applications that will radically change lives. These include healthcare, fitness, sport, defence, IT and aerospace, and quite probably a few we haven’t dreamt of yet.

We see a world where multiple garments will collectively monitor and record a range of personal data for the individual, replacing trackers and smartwatches. Current wrist-worn devices are limited in their sensitivity to a small range of bio-signals. Our sensors will pick up on heartbeat and movement, plus chemicals on the skin, temperature, electrical and even magnetic signals, monitoring fine and gross motor mechanical movement, and acoustic and optical outputs.

Prevayl™ has already developed the software that will collect, process and display the data to empower the user for far deeper insights into their own bodies than has ever been possible before. We’re working with partners, including Vodafone, to explore ways to make the most of cutting-edge technologies like 5G and blockchain to handle and protect this data.

The seamless weaving of tradition with technology - where else but in Manchester, the new Techtropolis?

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