Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Kai Yang is a Principal Research Fellow in the Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton. She has been awarded an EPSRC Innovation Fellowship in 2018. Dr Yang received her BEng degree in Material Engineering from Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, Beijing, China, in 2004, where she studied for the MSc from 2004 to 2005. She obtained a PhD in 2009 from the University of Leeds in textile digital printing. Since she joined the University of Southampton in 2009, she has gained 9 years’ experience on e-textile research projects. She is currently leading a £1.1 million Medical Research Council (MRC) translational grant (www.smartmove.soton.ac.uk) to develop a fabric based wearable functional electrical stimulation (FES) device for stroke rehabilitation. She has previously been PI/Co-I on a further 4 collaborative e-textiles research projects. She is a co-founder of a university spinout company, Smart Fabric Inks Ltd. She was a finalist for the 2016 Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs’ Award. Her research interests include ink formulations, e-textiles, printing, fabric electrodes, and wearable technologies for healthcare applications.
Kai, what does your current job role entail?
I am a Principal Research Fellow at the University of Southampton. I lead multidisciplinary research projects on e-textiles for healthcare applications. My work involves securing research funding, leading project teams to deliver the work plan, liaison with funders and external partners, and project exploitation via research publications, public engagement and commercialisation.
Has it been an easy industry to get into or have you had many challenges?
There were many challenges when I started to work in the printed electronic textiles from 2009. At that time, there was very little work on this area and I went through a lot of challenges to develop new materials and fabrication processing to make it work. Things do become easier on research as I build my experience and network, however, there are many new challenges when I step out of my comfortable zone, such as raising funding for a start-up company and taking the technology from lab research to a product.
How long did it take you to be where you are now? What was the biggest obstacle?
I have been working on e-textiles for 9 years. The biggest obstacle I had was to secure the £1 milion SMARTmove funding which took me many weekends and evenings to write/refine the proposals and bring people with different expertise on board. I am very glad it paid off eventually.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
I am the Principal Investigator of the SMARTmove project www.smartmove.soton.ac.uk. I have led a multidisciplinary team with expertise in functional materials, fabrication, control algorithms, wireless electronics, sensors, and end user engagement to address stroke rehabilitation. My team has developed an e-textile based training system that enables stroke survivors to learn their lost upper limb functions (e.g. hand opening, pointing). I have been awarded an EPSRC-UKRI Innovation Fellowship on “Advanced e-textiles for Wearable Therapeutics” to develop cutting edge e-textiles technologies for therapeutic applications, with the initial application focus on the osteoarthritis knee joint pain which effects 4.7 million people in the UK. I am also the co-founder of Smart Fabric Inks http://www.fabinks.com/.
What does the #WomenInTech movement mean to you?
#WomenInTech provides a platform for sharing the stories to keep women inspired. There is so much useful resources that can benefit others.
What are the projects (focus groups, meetups, initiatives, etc.) you run as part of your role that can help people to expand their horizons when it comes to opportunities in the fashion tech and smart textiles space?
We have been awarded an EPSRC E-textiles Network https://e-textiles-network.com/ to bring together researchers and developers from academia and industry interested in adding electronic functionality to textiles and their related products. The core activities include a newsletter for information sharing within the community, workshops to address the market needs and technical challenges, a conference to disseminate the outcomes in e-textiles, and training courses to educate people and minimise the learning curves.
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the wearable tech and smart textiles industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I believe there will be more and more ‘enabling applications’ in wearable tech and smart textiles industries. Such as the products/technologies to enable people to be more personalised, more connected and empower people to manage their own health conditions (e.g. digital healthcare).
Who are your inspirational women?
Sheryl Sandberg – Facebook COO. Her “Lean In” and “Option B” are both great books to read. Sheryl is a role model for women who aspire to be successful. She has done a great job to share the lessons along her journal. She inspires me to do better in good time and carry on and be resilience when hard times come.
LinkedIn: Kai Yang
Social media: @textiles_e
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.