The sensors are incorporated into narrow channels of the garment, which can be worn to monitor vital signs, like breathing, heart rate, and temperature changes. (Image Credit: MIT)
Researchers from MIT have developed a new lightweight sensor that can be incorporated into flexible fabrics, such as polyester shirts, which could monitor vital signs, including body temperature, respiratory and heart rate. These sensors are also machine-washable, can be customized to fit the wearer, and they can be removed and re-used on any type of clothing. The team hopes the sensor technology could be used to monitor astronauts, athletes, or those who are ill at home or in the hospital. The researchers published their findings in the journal npg Flexible Electronics.
“We can have any commercially available electronic parts or custom lab-made electronics embedded within the textiles that we wear every day, creating conformable garments,” says Canan Dagdeviren, the LG Electronics Career Development Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT. “These are customizable, so we can make garments for anyone who needs to have some physical data from their body like temperature, respiration rate, and so forth.”
Other companies have developed patches that are capable of measuring vital signs and temperature, but these aren’t as durable and need to be taped to the skin. Dagdeviren’s Conformable Decoders group at the Media Lab designed garments made of flexible fabric with removable sensors incorporated into it.
“In our case, the textile is not electrically functional. It’s just a passive element of our garment so that you can wear the devices comfortably and conformably during your daily activities,” Dagdeviren said. “Our main goal was to measure the physical activity of the body in terms of temperature, respiration, acceleration, all from the same body part, without requiring any fixture or any tape.”
The sensors are made up of long, flexible strips wrapped in epoxy and woven into narrow channels in the fabric. The channels contain a tiny opening where the sensors can be exposed to the wearer’s skin. Researchers created a prototype shirt outfitted with 30 temperature sensors and an accelerometer that measures the movement, respiratory, and heart rate of the wearer. Afterward, the data is wirelessly transmitted to a smartphone.
Once the flexible-fabric garment is worn, the sensors transmit data to the smartphone that tracks the wearer’s vital signs. This sensor technology could be useful for astronauts or customized telemedicine. (Image Credit: MIT)
The team used a polyester blend for the fabric due to its moisture-wicking properties, and its ability to quickly adapt to the skin, similar to compressions shirts worn by athletes. Several of the researchers visited a factory in Shenzhen, China, last summer to experiment mass-producing the garments’ material.
The team tested their prototype shirt on people who exercised at the gym, monitoring temperature, heart and breathing rate changes. It’s easier for the researchers to survey temperature changes in different areas of the body since the sensors cover a large area when it’s being worn.
These shirts can be custom made for anyone in varying sizes despite their age and body type. The team also plans on developing other items of clothing, including pants, and they are currently working to incorporate more sensors to monitor blood oxygen levels and other health indicators. This type of sensor technology could be very useful in telemedicine where doctors could observe patients while they’re at home or to monitor astronauts’ health when they’re in space.
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