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Smart Fabrics

This article was originally posted to the pre-magazine Freelance Traveller website in 2001, and reprinted in this form in the April/May 2015 issue.

Consumers in high-tech societies may select from a bewildering variety of options when shopping for clothing or other items made from fabric, such as tents and bags. A scanner booth generates a 3D model of the shopper, which can be saved to a smart card or personal organizer. Provided with this model, automated manufacturing equipment (often located in the store) can produce any requested garment within a few hours—sometimes minutes—custom-fitted to the shopper’s measurements, and integrating the selected features.

A single Smart Fabric can have a maximum number of optional capabilities equal to its TL minus 8. Thus, TL9 Smart Fabric can have only 1 capability, TL15 up to 7 capabilities. Of course, a garment can consist of multiple layers of fabric, thus allowing it to have more capabilities than would otherwise be possible—but with additional cost, weight, volume, and heat retention.

All costs, masses and stored volumes listed below are per square meter of Smart Fabric, and are in addition to the cost, mass and volume of the Basic Fabric itself. For a full suit, 2m2 is the minimum needed to completely cover the typical adult human from head to foot. More fabric should be used for looser, bulkier, padded, or layered garments.

Except as noted, most options require tiny rechargeable batteries, which are included in the price. Most clothing designs include discreet pockets for batteries and various personal electronic items such as Comms.

All Smart Fabric features break down over time due to wear and tear, especially from cleaning. They eventually become inoperable, some faster than others. Video Fabric-12 will become blurry and illegible after perhaps only 30 days’ use and cleaning, while Variable Colour-12 will last much longer. Higher TL materials are longer lasting.

Smart Fabrics should be washed only by cleaning technologies of equal or higher Tech Level; lower-tech methods will damage or destroy them.

These materials cannot be properly tailored at home by the consumer without a special skill and expensive computer-driven equipment.

Some options cannot be combined in the same fabric, such as Electro-Adhesive and Touch-Sensitive (because the adhesive area cannot also be touch-sensitive).

Some combinations of options are redundant, e.g. Video Display includes Electroluminescent, while Optical Chameleon includes both Variable Color and Variable Shade.

The Smart Fabric Catalog

The Basic Fabric and each option described is followed by its Mass in kg, its Cost in Cr, and its Stored Volume in liters, then the description appears indented on the next line. Omitted information for mass or volume indicates negligible or no change from Basic Fabric. All figures are in addition to the corresponding figures for Basic Fabric.

Basic Fabric-9: 0.5kg 10Cr 0.5l
(figures are per 1m2) Optional capabilities are detailed below. Computer circuitry is integrated into the weave of all Smart Fabrics, giving them a specialized computational Rating of 1, for all other tasks -1. Thus, Video Display fabric is R1 for video display tasks, R-1 for all others. The rating is the same regardless of the amount of fabric. (For higher ratings, see “Computational Array-13-15”, below.) Smart Fabric integrates seamlessly with most Comms, Business Rings, computers, and other personal electronics.

Smart Fabric Options, by Tech Level:

Motion Capture-9: — 50Cr —
Captures body-motion data to any computer, for VR and tele-operation applications. Does not provide tactile or force feedback.
Phosphorescent-9: — 25Cr —
Absorbs sunlight and glows for several hours. Once charged, the fabric’s phosphors cannot be “turned off”, and will continue to glow until their energy is dissipated.
Thermo-Electric-9: 0.25kg 300Cr 0.25l
Self-heating and -cooling. Uses between 100 and 1000w, depending on conditions, and requires a power source. (‘Photoelectric’ option is usually sufficient to power only the lowest settings.)
Electro-Adhesive-10: 0.3kg 5000Cr 0.3l
Becomes extremely sticky under a small current; otherwise non-sticky. Usually applied only to the soles of footwear for use in microgravity (see ‘Stickyfeet’, Central Supply Catalogue p.15), or to the palms and fingers of gloves, providing added traction in climbing, for example. A bolt of Electro-Adhesive material, fixed to the ground and fitted with a motion-detector, could be used as a humane (if expensive) trap for small animals. Designed into carpet, it will seriously hinder intruders, but not authorized personnel. Mass and price shown are for 1m2; use at least 0.04m2 for a pair of Sticky-feet sole-patches, 0.02m2 for a pair of Sticky-gloves. Patches must be replaced regularly at 4000Cr/m2.
Variable Color-10/12: — 25Cr —
Varies within a spectrum between any two primary colors, at a set tonal value (i.e. light, medium, or dark), unless combined with Variable Shade option. At TL12, varies across nearly the full color spectrum, at a set tonal value. Able to display various patterns (pinstripes, checkers, dots) and large-size text, but refreshes slowly (about once per second). Not a useful video or computer display.
Variable Shade-10: — 25Cr —
Varies within a spectrum of tonal values from dark to light, within a single color (unless combined with Variable Color option). See Variable Color option for additional description.
Water Shedding-10: — 25Cr —
Breaths easily, but waterproof under most wet-weather conditions. Actively channels water from the interior to the exterior surface. Water-shedding fabric is not waterproof when fully immersed, but will dry itself rapidly even after being soaked through.
Biomonitors-11: 0.2kg 200Cr 0.2l
Captures the wearer’s body temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate, respiration rate, and blood oxygen saturation. May include a pedometer/calorimeter for fitness buffs.
Electroluminescent-11: — 70Cr —
Produces light in a fixed color of variable intensity. Variable colors at TL12+. At maximum intensity, illuminates up to 10m radius for about 1 hour on a small battery. Will glow at lower intensity for several days, or can be connected to a continuous power source. Can flash to attract attention, and display various patterns or simple static messages in large text, but is not a useful video display.
Speaker/Microphone-11: 0.1kg 200Cr 0.1l
Can stiffen circular panels which vibrate to produce sound. Also receives sound through smaller panels that act as microphones. Quality of sound output and reception tends to vary with the size of panel, and how firmly anchored it is - e.g., a “Sound-Shirt” can reproduce human speech recognizably with some distortion, while a “Boom-Bedsheet” stapled to a wall will cleanly reproduce music with heavy bass and clean high frequencies. Requires 5w to 200w power, depending on volume and size.
Variable Opacity-11: — 100Cr —
Varies from opaque to nearly-transparent. Tends to be more popular with the fashion industry than with the general public.
Video Display-11: — 100Cr —
Low-resolution RGB fibre-optic weave. Requires video input from camera, Comm, or recording (not included). Otherwise same capabilities as Electroluminescent.
Force Feedback-12: 0.5kg 1000Cr 0.5l
Flexes to provide limited tactile/force feedback for tele-operation or VR.
Optical Chameleon-12: 0.25kg 500Cr 0.25l
Medium-resolution variable-color display material. Short-range moving images collected by sensors on one side of garment are displayed on the opposite side, to camouflage the wearer. Confers +2 DM to surprise rolls when stationary, +1 when moving (+3,+2 in darkness), and DM-1 to spot with optical sensors. Can also be used as medium-resolution Video Display.
Photoelectric-12: 0.25kg 20Cr 0.25l
Generates power when exposed to sunlight. Output varies with conditions, but on an Atmos 6 world, 1AU from a G0v sun, a full suit will generate about 100w (250w at TL14). A 1m2 area entirely exposed to the same light will generate about 300w (650w at TL14). Even the slightest cloud cover drastically cuts the output. In vacuum, output is at least three times as many watts.
Computer-13/15: 1kg 700Cr 1l
Provides a higher computation rating than Basic Fabric by increasing the density of circuitry and connecting regions of the fabric into an array. Specialized Rating R2 at TL13, R3 at TL15.
Self-Repairing-12: — 200Cr —
Self-repairs minor splits, tears, abrasions, etc.
Touch Sensitive-12: — 200Cr —
Haptic transducers in the fabric partially extend the wearer’s sense of touch to the exterior of their clothes. Senses heat, cold, moisture, impacts, and texture, though much less acutely than human skin. Requires sensory jack implant (not included). Touch Fabric has the strange effect of making one’s clothes feel as if they were literally part of one’s body, thus providing a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings. Applied to bulky armor, reduces DEX penalty by 1, with practice. Extremely useful when applied to the exterior of vac suits or other bulky hazardous-environment gear.
Toxin Filtering-12: 0.5kg 250Cr 0.5l
Filters a range of known toxins from atmosphere. Commonly found in filter suits (Central Supply Catalog p.12).
Variable Rigidity-12: 1kg 1kCr 1l
Can instantly rigidify when impact sensors are triggered, conferring an armor rating of r1 versus subsequent impacts (DM of -1 to DEX tasks when rigid). Can save the wearer’s life in a fall. TL14+ versions include proximity sensors that can predict some impending impacts before they occur (on a roll of TL or less on 3D).
Variable Shape-12: 0.5kg 100Cr 0.5l
Varies cut, fit, and style of garment within a limited range. With this feature, loose garments can become snug and skintight, hemlines can shorten or lengthen by a few centimeters, lapels can widen or disappear, etc. But a dress cannot transmogrify into pants or a shirt.
Variable Reflectivity-13: — 300Cr —
Varies from matte to mirror-like. Mirror mode provides armor rating of1 against laser weapons, but is very easy to spot with optical sensing, even at night. This feature is commonly used in environments with extreme temperature ranges.
Thermal Chameleon-13: 0.25kg 500Cr 0.25l
Similar to Optical Chameleon, but operates in the IR spectrum to break up the wearer’s heat signature and imitate surrounding heat-imagery (-2 to spot with thermal sensors).
Self-Cleaning-15: — 600Cr —
Actively breaks down and sheds virtually all foreign material trapped in or on the fabric, especially organic matter. Though not completely impervious to grime, it can be worn continuously for up to five days without acquiring a noticeable odor. However, under-layers of synthetics must be worn, because Self-Cleaning Fabric will likely identify hair as dead organic material, leaving the wearer’s body virtually hairless! It will also degrade organic cloth in close contact with it.

Typical Smart-Fabric Suits

Work/Leisure Outfit-11: 1kg 170Cr 1l
Variable color, variable shade, water shedding. A dark, conservative suit at the office, transforms into colorful casual-wear for dinner, loose or skintight as desired.
Dance Club Gear-12: 1.5kg 820Cr 2l
Video display, sound, biomonitors , variable opacity. Sound panels tie into the club’s sound system, putting you literally inside the music. Video display reacts to biomonitor data with flashes of color and light in sync with your body’s rhythms. Opaque or translucent, depending on your mood, inhibitions, and respect for local custom.
Immersive Media-Suit-12: 2.2kg 2890Cr 2.2l
Motion-capture, force feedback, sound, touch sensitive. For VR or tele-operation use. Touch Fabric provides the illusion that the suit isn’t even there.
Covert Ops Bodysuit-13: 3kg 2270Cr 3l
Water shedding, opto/thermal chameleon, variable shape. Crawl through the swamp, avoid the sentry-bots, set the charges, and slip back to the black-tie reception without even stopping to change clothes.
Adventure Climber-14: 2.1kg 1550Cr 3l
Thermo-electric, water shedding, electroluminescent, self-repair, photoelectric (generates about 250w); sticky-shoes and -gloves. The glow of your climbing suit will help the rescue teams find you when you get stuck half-way up the crater wall.
Exploration Suit-15: 3.4kg 5070Cr 4l
Thermo-electric, water shedding, biomonitors, self-repair, optical chameleon, variable rigidity, variable reflectivity. What the obsessively well-outfitted Scout is wearing this season.

Typical Smart-Fabric Gear

Backpack-12: 1kg 325Cr 2l
Water shedding, variable opacity, self-repairing. De-opaque your pack and find out at a glance where you stowed your socks—without having to unpack everything else. Increases Encumbrance limit by 20%. Capacity: 30 liters, 80kg.
Utility Vest-14: 3kg 1500Cr 3l
Water shedding, optical chameleon, photoelectric, self-repair, touch sensitive, variable rigidity, variable shape. Pocket capacity: 12 liters.
Ultra Tarpaulin-12: 50kg 34000Cr 50l
510m; electroluminescent, variable opacity, optical chameleon, photoelectric (generates about 650w per m2 exposed to sunlight). Perhaps the most expensive way to cover a campsite ever invented!