Smart clothing, the next step in wearables
Can you imagine having a vest that is capable of measuring your posture? Or measures that determine if he is walking correctly? Or go further and have a garment that alerts you if you have suffered a fall or are unconscious?
All these scenarios are already a reality and are possible thanks to the development of tactile fibers, which from now on open a new field of possibilities in the world of wearables or wearable technology, which until now is dominated by smart watches and hearing aids.
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Recently, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) revealed the creation of garments with functional fibers that are capable of sensing a person’s movement through touch.
“Our clothing uses a blend of typical textile fibers along with a small amount of custom made functional fibers that detect human pressure.”, Indicates in dialogue with EL TIEMPO Wan Shou, postdoctoral researcher at MIT Csail and one of the developers of this technology.
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How does it work?
The exploration for the creation of this type of textile began two years ago in the Laboratory of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at MIT. The idea was to manufacture textiles that were based on ‘machine learning’ or machine learning.
“We saw that there is a huge increase in the use of wearable devices to measure things like heart rate and respiration. But we were curious to see if we could detect how a person moves while doing a physical activity”, detalla Shou.
For this they began with the creation of fibers, composed of stainless steel threads, which are coated with piezoresistive nanocomposites. In other words, they are made of materials mixed with polymers that are tiny and have conductive properties, which make them a sensor.
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Unlike many portable electronic devices, these tactile fabrics are soft, stretchy, breathable, and can take a wide range of shapes.
With this, the development of stockings, gloves and vests has been achieved. Which have allowed to determine if someone is sitting, walking or doing a pose.
Shou points out that in the case of stockings they are able to predict the movement of the person by observing the different sequences of the user’s footprints. In the vests they allow to read the posture of the body and what type of activities it is developing.
All the information collected by these fibers reaches a computer, which uses an algorithm with ‘machine learning’, which does a self-correction if at some point a sensor stops working or is poorly arranged.
Fields of action
Beyond the wearables market, which has grown exponentially, increasing 22 percent of its sales in 2020, with 193 million devices soldAccording to figures from CCS Insight, these smart clothing seeks to impact the sports training and rehabilitation sector.
“With patients’ permission, you could help passively monitor the health of residents in assisted-care facilities and determine if, for example, someone is unconscious,” says Shou.
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In addition, the researcher adds, a physical trainer can make use of this type of garment to analyze people’s postures when exercising and make suggestions. Or even use the collected data for robots to be configured and learn to perform human activities.
Despite how striking this technology may seem, it is a couple of years before it will be commercialized on a large scale, although Shou emphasizes that one of the main advantages of these fibers is that they are easy to incorporate into textile production.
“Unlike many portable electronic devices, these tactile fabrics are soft, elastic, breathable and can take a wide range of shapes”, details the MIT researcher.
This raises a wide range of possibilities for the future about what could be done with these sensors and how this technology can revolutionize the concept of wearables as we have not seen before.
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MARÍA FERNANDA ARBELÁEZ M.