The University of Southampton

Southampton electronics students create self-locating fabric map

Published: 18 March 2021
The eSplashMap identifies the user’s location via LEDs on the map’s edges.

A GPS-enabled fabric map developed by Electrical and Electronic Engineering students from the University of Southampton has been showcased at the UK's leading event for wearable and emerging technologies.

The innovative prototype was created over the past year in an undergraduate group design project with the all-weather map designer SplashMaps.

The eSplashMaps concept was presented by SplashMaps' David Overton and Southampton's Professor Steve Beeby at Tuesday’s virtual Wearable Technology Show 2021, where discussions centred on preparing the device for market.

The washable and weatherproof map identifies the user's location via LEDs aligned with the gridlines on the map's edges. The device is wirelessly powered using inductive coupling between the map and a portable power module.

The e-map is the second generation of the student-led prototype to be developed from a partnership between SplashMaps and Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS).

The latest design has been advanced by MEng Electrical and Electronic Engineering students Jake Norman, David Court, Mario Pulze, Samuel Evans, and Benjamin Gomm, with MEng Electronic Engineering student Alicja Bochnacka.

Professor Beeby, Head of the Smart Electronic Materials and Systems Research Group, says: "The students have delivered an impressively robust, functioning electronic textile map. This has served as an excellent stepping stone towards a future e-map product with future iterations providing improved positional resolution, further miniaturised electronics and even printed light emitting features to point the way."

ECS group design projects provide students with an opportunity to put skills into practice and experience working for an industry or academic customer. As part of a small team of students from different disciplines, groups design and implement an innovative solution to a real-world problem, while at the same time developing new transferable skills.

David Overton, SplashMaps Managing Director, says: "We're delighted to have, in our hands, a working version of a long-held vision thanks to the students’ work. We’re proud to represent this work at the Wearable Technology Show as a significant step on the way to a fully dynamic and interactive fabric map."

Tuesday's presentation delivered an overview of the €5.5 million SmartT programme that brings together specialists from the UK and France to unlock the potential of innovative smart textiles

The Interreg grant, which is led by Professor Beeby and the School of Chemistry's Professor David Harrowven, is aiming to generate 100 smart inks that each emit different coloured light following electrical stimulation, creating a colour chart spanning the entire visible spectrum from red to violet, and beyond into the ultraviolet region.

The functional inks are ideally suited for new applications in fashion, sport, safety ware, and advertising, as well as mapmaking.

Professor Beeby says: "The research vision for e-textiles in ECS is to integrate electronic functionality into textiles in a manner that is undetectable to the wearer. These emerging e-textiles have to be reliable and robust, withstanding the rigours of use, and be implemented in a low-cost, sustainable manner."

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