“What we wear says something about our personality – but what if our clothes and accessories could also tell us about our health?
A smart shirt prototype can keep track of how much the wearer eats or drinks. Soft textile sensors in the collar monitor the neck muscles to inconspicuously detect swallows.
“With this technology, we can monitor complex behaviour in daily life,” explained Oliver Amft, Professor of Sensor Technology, University of Passau. “For example, we can detect dehydration – when you drink too little during the day. It’s also useful for diabetes patients: we can support them with advice about healthier nutritional habits. It can also provide overweight people with recommendations based on actual data.”
Here’s another possibility for skin-friendly textile sensors. The frame of these glasses measures skull bone vibrations when the person is chewing. The vibration pattern shows what kind of food is being eaten. This can make continuous nutrition monitoring less awkward, almost unnoticeable.
“The major challenge is to integrate measuring technologies into everyday objects, such as clothes,” added Amft. “Same for the glasses: for people who need them it’s completely normal to wear them constantly. Any such accessories in which we can integrate monitoring sensors can help to assess eating behaviour.”
Textile sensors, developed at this European research project are all based on the same type of synthetic fabric: polymer fibres intervowen with silver or copper-based conductors.
“It’s fully flexible, and it’s also air-permeable — that basically means if you put it on your body, if you sweat, the air can get through,” Jingyuan Cheng, Simpleskin Project Coordinator, told Euronews. “So it’s really comfortable. And you can also wash it in the washing machine. We have done tests putting it into a washing machine for around 40 times — and it still works!”
But can this smart fabric be produced on a large scale? This Swiss company joined the research project as a leading manufacturer of innovative textiles. Such high-tech materials are generally intended for industrial use – screen printing supplies, precise filters and even transparent electrodes.
“We already produce similar fabrics for textile-based solar cells and light-emitting cells,” said Peter Chabrecek, Head of R&D, Sefar. “It’s easy to adapt our weaving machines for this kind of fabric – all it takes is a little adjustment.”
Mass production can make smart textile affordable for a myriad of uses, such as in the security and sports industries. An intelligent seat cover can help with your posture, or even make sure the car driver is watching the road.
“People can produce the same textile, same electronics, and applications like in sport, in healthcare, in security, or in human-computer interactions,” explained Cheng. “A lot of other areas can be explored. I hope in the future this approach can lower the price and finally push our smart textile into the main market.”
Where smartphones and other fiddly gadgets get in the way, smart fashion, such as pressure-sensing trainers and sportswear, can be a real winner.