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The MATUROLIFE (Metallisation of Textiles to make Urban living for Older people more Independent and Fashionable) project led by Coventry University (UK), which is funded by the European Commission and involves 20 partners from 9 countries is a unique multi-disciplinary project that will bring electrochemists, materials scientists and experts in electronic manufacturing processes together with creative and artistic designers to produce smart textiles and fabrics with the aim of revolutionising assistive technology (AT) for older people.

With an increase in the ageing population across Europe there is a huge and growing demand for AT. However, such devices are rarely designed with fashion, aesthetics or discretion in mind marking the user out as vulnerable and ‘older’. Obtaining the opinions and desires of older people will therefore be central to the MATUROLIFE project, which will utilise a design management approach embedding creative artists and designers and their methods throughout the project. Product development will ensure embedding of emotional design principles and adoption of a co-creation approach. Thus, older people will influence the design of AT ensuring it is functional, meets their needs and requirements and is aesthetically pleasing and desirable.

Electronic or ‘smart’ textiles represent a potentially high growth area for electronics manufacturing. There are a number of ways to make textiles and fabrics conductive including knitting or weaving in conductive threads or metal wires or printing conductive inks onto such materials. However, it is arguable whether such an approach can produce electronics that are truly integrated into the textile as conventional metal wires change the feel and drape of the material and make them stiff and less flexible. Simply attaching electronic components to a textile makes them heavier and uncomfortable to wear.

MATUROLIFE takes an alternative approach to introducing electronic connectivity to textiles and fabrics. Catalysts will be developed that can be selectively deposited onto textiles and fabrics enabling subsequent metallisation processes to fully coat fibres within the textiles with copper thus producing a truly multi-functional material. The feel and drape of the textile is maintained with very little increase in weight whilst the material can still be bent and twisted in the same way as a conventional textile.