Sensors Integrated in Fabric Could Redefine Telemedicine

Smart garments can accurately monitor patient vitals and actions without needing typical medical equipment. They also can improve exercise experiences for individuals. With greater use of smart health devices, it’s no surprise that smart garments are on the rise.

 

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Image credit: Wearable X

Imagine your medical professional checking your vital signs while you run errands or run a mile. That is possible with the emergence of smart clothes, which integrate the Internet of Things technologies directly in the fabric.

Montreal-based Hexoskin has created smart shirts that collect medical data using sensors. Unlike other smart wearables, like fitness trackers, Hexoskin embeds digital sensors within the fabric of the clothing. The Hexoskin shirt has a continuous one-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) and two sensors that monitor lung function. In addition to monitoring the wearer’s vital signs, a three-axis-accelerometer tracks the patient’s daily activity levels and sleep.

Raw data from the sensors is collected continuously and is automatically transmitted via Bluetooth to the Hexoskin smartphone app. Hexoskin’s cloud-based Hx Services software and Hx Dashboard provide advanced analysis and allow patients and medical professionals to view and share the information with other individuals if needed. The Hexoskin data is also compatible with third-party apps, such as MapMyRun.

Smart Garments For Mental Health

The Hexoskin shirt can be worn under other gear, and the company targeted emergency and military personnel with its first design. The Hexoskin can remotely monitor the vitals of first responders and military personnel while in action, detecting physical stress or injury. It also has been used to predict and monitor physical changes during PTSD episodes.

Hexoskin created a more advanced version of its shirt for Canadian astronauts. Dubbed the Astroskin, it adds integrated sensors to monitor blood pressure, pulse oximetry, respiration, and skin temperature. The longer battery life, 48 hours rather than 30 hours, allows for extended, real-time monitoring of vitals. Data from the Astroskiin sensors is transmitted via Bluetooth to the Hexoskin app and can be viewed in space and on Earth.

3 chords, two blue and red with smart fibers

Image credit: MIT

Movement-Sensing Smart Clothes

Researchers at  MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) also are creating a smart fabric. MIT uses an automated fabrication process to create a fiber strand that senses pressure and converts those sensations into electrical data signals. To combat sensor malfunction within the fibers, the researchers developed a self-correcting system using machine learning algorithms to modify sensors when needed.

The smart fibers are woven into garments, such as socks, gloves, and vests, that could help personalize athletic training or monitor individuals in assisted-living or rehabilitation centers. For example, the socks can be used to predict and track motion, such as bending, lunging, walking, and squatting, by monitoring pressure differences and tracking tactile footprint sequences for each action. In the future, the researchers believe they could help determine if an individual has fallen or is unconscious. 

Namaste-I

Outside of medical uses, some smart clothes are designed to improve the wearer’s workout. Wearable X, a fashion tech company, launched the machine-washable Nadi X yoga leggings. These leggings use embedded sensors and haptic feedback vibrations on main joint areas to guide the wearer during their yoga workout.

The sensors are accelerometers powered by a rechargeable device that clips into the back of the leggings. Using Bluetooth, the device transmits data about the wearer’s posture and length of yoga positions to the Wearable X app. The app also allows the wearer to adjust feedback vibration levels and use audio instructions during their workout.

Smart garments offer new ways for individuals to track their health in real-world environments. The durability of the embedded sensors allow them to be used by athletes, patients, and astronauts. The possibilities for future smart garments are promising, especially as the demand for remote medicine and health monitoring continues.

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