Researchers at MIT have developed a way to integrate electronic sensors into stretchy fabrics. The breakthrough allows them to create shirts or other garments that could be used to monitor vital signs like temperature, respiratory rate, and heart rate. The sensor-laden garments are machine washable and can be customized to fit close to the body of the person wearing them.
The team thinks that this type of sensing garment can be used for monitoring people that are sick both at home and in the hospital. The sensor-laden clothes could also be used to monitor athletes or astronauts. The scientists at MIT say that they could have any commercially available electronic parts or custom lab-made electronics embedded inside the textiles. The garments would be comfortable to wear every day, according to the team.
The researchers set out to create garments similar to the clothes we usually wear that stretchy fabric with removable electronic sensors are incorporated into. The team says that in its case, the textile is not electrically functional. The garment is a passive element so that they can wear the sensors comfortably and conformably during daily activities.
The main goal of the research team was to measure the physical activity of the body in terms of temperature, respiration, acceleration, often the same body part without requiring any fixture or any tape. The sensors themselves are long, and flexible strips are encased in epoxy and then woven into narrow channels in the fabric. The channels have small openings that allow the sensors to be exposed to the skin.
For the study, the researchers designed a prototype with 30 temperature sensors and an accelerometer that can measure the wearer’s movement, heart rate, and breathing rate. The garment is capable of transmitting the data collected wirelessly to a smartphone. The fabric used is a polyester blend with moisture-wicking properties and is similar to a compression shirt worn during exercise.