MIT engineers have developed a way of creating shirts and other clothing items that are embedded with tiny electronic sensors capable of measuring the heart and respiration rates, temperature, and movement. Other vital signs can be added by utilizing additional sensor types. The technology will allow physicians to monitor their patients closely throughout the day, potentially including 12-lead ECG capabilities that can comprehensively detect a wide variety of cardiovascular conditions. Of course, athletes will also be interested in such features.
The team used a polyester shirt as the base into which to integrate their sensors, thanks to its stretchiness, ability to produce a tight fit, and ability to wick away perspiration from the body.
The sensors are flexible strips covered with epoxy that are woven into the shirt so that the strips still make contact with bare skin. Thanks to the epoxy coating, the shirts are machine washable and the sensors can be easily removed from the fabric and moved to another clothing item without being damaged.
The team’s prototype has 30 temperature sensors, as well as an accelerometer that detects heart rate, breathing, and the wearer’s movements. The data are sent to a central electronic unit on the shirt that can wirelessly transmit its readings to a smartphone or other device and also serves as a charging point for the integrated batteries.
“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,” said Canan Dagdeviren, the lead author of the study appearing in journal npj Flexible Electronics . “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. 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. It compresses on your body, and the active parts of the sensors are exposed to the skin.”
Here’s an MIT video showing off the workings of the new electronic suit:
Open access study in npj Flexible Electronics: A tailored, electronic textile conformable suit for large-scale spatiotemporal physiological sensing in vivo