MIT researchers have created a way to incorporate electronic sensors into stretchy fabrics to monitor the wearer’s vital signs, like temperature, respiration, heart rate. The sensors could be used to monitor ill people, athletes, astronauts and others.
The team designed a prototype shirt with 30 temporary sensors and an accelerometer that can measure movement, heart rate and breathing rate. The sensors transmit data wirelessly to a smartphone. The shirt is made of a polyester blend. They used this material for its moisture-wicking properties and the ability to conform to the body. Sensors can be incorporated into shirts and other garments and customized to the wearer’s body. Any commercially available electronic parts and custom made electronics can be embedded in everyday textiles.
The team set out to create a stretchy fabric with removable electronics sensors incorporated into it. The textile is not electrically functional. It acts as a passive element of the garment, so devices could be worn comfortably.
The electronic sensors are long, flexible strips encased in epoxy that are woven into narrow channels in the fabric. The main goal of the new wearable is to measure the physical activity of the body from the same body part without any fixture or tape.
The team designed a prototype shirt with 30 temporary sensors and an accelerometer that can measure movement, heart rate and breathing rate. The sensors transmit data wirelessly to a smartphone.
The outside of the shirt looks normal, but the inside has exposed electronics that touch the skin. Compression ensures that the active parts of the sensors are touching the wearer’s skin. The garments can be washed with the sensors in them, but the sensors can also be removed and transferred to another garment.
They tested prototypes on wearers while they worked out at the gym. They monitored changes in temperature, heart rate and breathing rate. The sensors cover a large surface of the body so the team could observe temperature changes in different areas of the body and find how the changes correlate.
The shirts can be easily manufactured in different sizes. The team spent time in China experimenting with mass-producing materials for the garments. There are plans to develop other types of garments with embedded sensors.
A paper on this technology was published in npj Flexible Electronics.