Sensors for stretchable garments work with a smartphone

Sensors for stretchable garments work with a smartphone

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga

Publishing their results in the npg Flexible Electronics journal under the title “A tailored, electronic textile conformable suit for large-scale spatiotemporal physiological sensing in vivo”, the researchers showcase a so-called electronic textile conformable suit (E-TeCS), in effect a novel type of compression garment allowing intimate contact between electronics and the skin, with temperature sensors and accelerometers distributed throughout the entire garment. They also demonstrated such an E-TeCS can be used for distributed, wireless physiological sensing, such as temperature, respiration and heart-rate detection, and physical activity monitoring around the wearer during a physical exercise.

The sensor-embedded garments, which are machine washable, can be customized to fit close to the body of the person wearing them. The researchers envision that this type of sensing could be used for monitoring people who are ill, either at home or in the hospital, as well as athletes or astronauts.

“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.”

Concept of the spatiotemporal sensor mapping of the body with temperature and accelerometer (heart beat and respiration) embedded in garment (a). The flexible-stretchable electronic strips are embedded in textile channels (b). Inset (c) show an exploded view of a sensor island.

“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 says. “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 bare flexible-stretchable electronic strip (right)
can be woven in a knit textile (left) (scale bar: 1 cm).

The electronic sensors consist of long, flexible strips that are encased in epoxy and then woven into narrow channels in the fabric. These channels have small openings that allow the sensors to be exposed to the skin. For this study, the researchers designed a prototype shirt with 30 temperature sensors and an accelerometer that can measure the wearer’s movement, heart rate, and breathing rate. The garment can then transmit this data wirelessly to a smartphone.

“From the outside it looks like a normal T-shirt, but from the inside, you can see the electronic parts which are touching your skin,” Dagdeviren says. “It compresses on your body, and the active parts of the sensors are exposed to the skin.”

The garments can be washed with the sensors embedded in them, and the sensors can also be removed and transferred to a different garment. Because the sensors cover a large surface area of the body, the researchers can observe temperature changes in different parts of the body, and how those changes correlate with each other.

The final E-TeCS prototype conforms
well to the wearer (scale bar: 10 cm).

The shirts can be easily manufactured in different sizes to fit an array of ages and body types, Dagdeviren says. She plans to begin developing other types of garments, such as pants, and is working on incorporating additional sensors for monitoring blood oxygen levels and other indicators of health.

The research was funded by the MIT Media Lab Consortium and a NASA Translational Research Institute for Space Health Seed Grant from the MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative.


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