Space Age Outlast—Wearable Climate Control System
We always knew that motorcycles were high-tech. Similarly, crash protection has advanced tremendously in street apparel in recent years. Still, would you believe that one of the trendsetting technologies in motorcycle gear is directed solely at rider comfort and started as research for a NASA spacesuit program? Outlast® smart fabric is the direct descendant of technology designed to protect astronauts from the extreme fluctuations of temperatures in space. For a fantastic
The principle behind Outlast® clothing is not too different from using ice cubes to keep a drink cool. In a glass, ice cubes absorb the heat from a drink as it melts from a solid to a liquid. Called phase changing, this process is repeated on a microscopic level in Outlast® clothing. Instead of ice cubes getting your clothes all wet, millions of microcapsules (Thermocules® in Outlast-speak) spun into the strands of the fabric itself handle the temperature control. Inside the tiny Thermocules®, a parfin-like Phase Change Material (PCM) has a melting point near that of body temperature, allowing it to store and dissipate body heat as the situation requires.
With traditional fabrics that are intended to keep the body warm, the fabric is designed to trap the heat next to the body. Unfortunately, that means that when excess heat is generated-say, during spirited riding on a twisty section of road-that excess heat makes the rider feel, well, hot. Outlast Thermocules® actually absorb the heat, turning the solid PCMs into a liquid. As the rider's body cools, the PCM returns to a solid state, releasing the heat back to the rider's body. Sounds like the perfect lining for a jacket, doesn't it?
PCMs don't only work in cool weather. The process also applies during warmer riding. By helping to move the heat from warmer parts of the body to cooler areas, Outlast® fabrics dissipate the heat, making for more comfortable riding. One nice side-effect of keeping the body's microclimate in a more comfortable range is that it sweats less in an effort to keep cool. This is particularly helpful in items like boots where ventilation is limited, allowing the materials that are in constant contact with skin to stay drier and more comfortable.
In case this sounds too Buck Rodgers to be true, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) formulated a testing standard for measuring and quantifying the temperature buffering ability of Outlast® materials. To date, Outlast® fabrics have primarily been used in clothing designed for active sports, such as skiing, expect to see the technology move into other more mundane areas. Search the web, and you'll find Outlast® materials in bed sheets and mattress pads. Since the Thermocules® can be injected into foams, expect to see Outlast® technology in car seats and other molded products in the not-too-distant future.
Although these Thermocules® (see below) are a coating applied to a fabric, you can get an idea of their size relative to the strands that make up a thread.
Under a microscope, Thermocules® may look like a bunch of ping pong balls, but they are less than half the diameter of a human hair. Inside the inert shells, the PCM can run through an unlimited number of heat absorption, storage and release cycles.