Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Smart fabrics make clever (medical) clothing

22.10.2008
European researchers have developed a smart fabric that can monitor muscular overload and help prevent repetitive strain injury or RSI. But that is just the beginning. The team is also exploring a pregnancy belt to monitor baby’s heartbeat, clothing to help coach hockey, and shirts that monitor muscle fatigue during training.

Smart fabrics promise to revolutionise clothing by incorporating sensors into cloth for health, lifestyle and business applications. In the long term, they could consist of circuits and sensors that provide all of the typical electronics we carry around today, like mobile phones and PDAs.

Current, first-generation applications are far more modest, and pioneering medical smart fabrics are used to monitor vital signs like heart rate and temperature. But two crucial hurdles – unobtrusiveness and reliability – impede widespread adoption of such clever clothes.

Now one European research team has developed groundbreaking medical-sensing smart fabrics, and its work could lead to pregnancy monitoring belts, sports clothing that provides training tips, a wearable physical game controller, and a vest that helps to prevent repetitive strain injury.

The Context project initially sought to develop an RSI vest to tackle a serious work safety issue. Repetitive actions can, over time, lead to permanent injury and the problem costs billions of euros a year. It affects over 40 million workers across the continent and is responsible for 50 percent of all work-related ill-health.

Muscle contraction, the very quiet metric

The team had to tackle three challenging problems. First, they were using a relatively novel sensor that demanded sophisticated electronics located in the clothing. Second, they were aiming to measure muscle contraction, a very ‘quiet metric’. Third, they were venturing on a research path seldom trod: muscle contraction as a predictor for stress. Long-term, low-key stress is the leading risk factor for RSI.

“Each of the issues was very difficult. We chose to use a capacitative sensor, because it does not need to be attached to the skin, like resistive sensors do, which adds to the comfort. It needs controlling electronics close to the sensor to work effectively, and that presents a real challenge for textile integration,” explains Bas Feddes, Context’s coordinator.

Similarly, measuring electromyography, or electrical activity in the muscle, is more subtle and tricky than electrocardiography, which measures the heart. The rustle of clothing caused by movement can drown out the signal.

Context has gone a long way to solving that problem but it is not as robust as they would like.

Finally, medical understanding of muscle stress as a predictor for RSI is not a mature field of research, so it is difficult to say with certainty that specific activities could lead to RSI.

Despite these hurdles, the team successfully designed an RSI vest, and they are currently improving its reliability.

Context’s ambitious programme tackled pioneering and very complex issues in smart-fabric research, which resulted in a useful, unobtrusive and reliable RSI vest that can warn wearers to take a recuperative break.

Baby onboard

More importantly, perhaps, the work was finished on time and under budget, so Context has scope to explore other potential applications enabled by the system. The team is eager to extend this work. “We also have some ideas for improving bio-feedback for the prevention of RSI problems, and we will pursue them as well,” notes Feddes.

But other applications may prove even more compelling in the short term. For example, the team is looking at a pregnancy belt to monitor a baby’s heart rate. “In the short term, this would be more of a lifestyle application, rather than a medical one, but that work could lead to a belt that helps monitor difficult pregnancies,” Feddes believes.

In the meantime, parents could enjoy the peace of mind monitoring their child’s heartbeat, perhaps with a heart-shaped light keeping the rhythm. But reliability will be paramount, suggests Feddes, as false warnings could be nerve wrecking for parents.

Muscle stress during sports training is another potential application, and one consortium partner will pursue a swing-monitor for hockey players.

“Hockey coaches find it difficult to give feedback to their players, so they would be very interested in clothing that details the path of their stroke. The shirt would track the order in which muscles engaged during the swing. It is an application that could apply to golf, too,” Feddes explains.

One of the most interesting and intensively investigated applications is a physical game controller. Controlling a computer game by wearing a garment that continuously probes your muscle activity is attractive, not only because of the fun-factor but also because it promotes exercise by children.

The garment again requires the expertise of all partners to develop the sensors, and integrate them into the textiles, and to measure and interpret muscle activity.

“It is an interesting area with many potential applications and the project partners were very engaged so we got a lot of work done. We would like to pursue other areas together in a future project, if possible, and we will be discussing potential research areas over the coming months.”

The Context project is receiving funding from the Sixth Framework Programme for Information Society Technologies.

Christian Nielsen | alfa
Further information:
http://cordis.europa.eu/ictresults
http://cordis.europa.eu/ictresults/index.cfm/section/news/tpl/article/BrowsingType/Features/ID/90101

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht New design improves performance of flexible wearable electronics
23.06.2017 | North Carolina State University

nachricht Plant inspiration could lead to flexible electronics
22.06.2017 | American Chemical Society

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersensitive through quantum entanglement

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy under real ambient pressure conditions

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Mice provide insight into genetics of autism spectrum disorders

28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>