Army scientists have invented a new reflective thread that may replace materials currently used in high-visibility clothing and safety equipment. The patented technology is available via license agreement to companies that would make, use, or sell it commercially.
Retro-reflectivity causes incident light from a localized source, such as a headlight or flashlight, to be returned to the source even if the reflecting surface is not facing the source. These engineered surfaces increase visibility in low visibility conditions and are key enabling technologies in safety applications.
Typically, such surfaces are constructed from an array of miniaturized refractive elements bonded onto a reflective surface. Common retro-reflectors include metal-coated high-refractive-index glass spheres and cube-corner prisms with metalized back coatings. The retro-reflective surfaces themselves are sewn or otherwise bonded onto an article or piece of clothing. Unfortunately, that method has drawbacks. The two-step process requires more time and materials, and often the bonding itself fails after time, causing the piece of clothing or gear to lose the critical reflective component. Further, metallic coatings, in particular, suffer from premature wear. When used for friend v. foe identification on the battlefield, such deficiencies can be fatal.
To avoid such situations, Michael Ghebrebrhan and Landa Hoke, scientists at the Fiber and Material Division of the U.S. Army’s CCDC Soldier Center in Natick, Massachusetts, have produced a fiber thread with inherent retro-reflective properties. Unique to this solution is that fibers can be colored thus providing more options beyond the common yellow and silver. The retro-reflective fibers can also be woven into fabrics and thus garments enabling patterning of reflectivity, maintaining the physical properties of the primary materials, and eliminating the potential for reflective components to be easily torn or pulled off.
The new retro-reflective thread will potentially remove a process step from the manufacturing of reflective materials and ensure increased longevity in everything from high-visibility safety vests to athletic footwear.
- Enhanced retro-reflectivity with a breathable, dye-able material
- Applicable to a diverse array of garments, shoes, hats for both military and civilian use
- Fibers can be provide visible or non-visible (IR) reflectivity
- Robust, long-lasting, high-tech fiber thread could replace cumbersome two-step manufacturing process
- Research into new fibers and optimization of the manufacturing process is ongoing within the Army
- Businesses can commercialize the technology by licensing U.S. Patent 10,427,367 from the Army
- License fees paid to the Army are negotiable
- Businesses that license the technology may have the opportunity to pursue collaborative research with the inventors
- Testing data may be available to companies evaluating the technology
- TechLink guides businesses through evaluation and licensing; services provided at no cost