BACKGROUND: Scientists at Virginia Tech's E-textiles Laboratory are developing clothes that appear and feel normal, but provide sensing and computing capabilities. Wires and sensors are woven into the fabric, which can then be used to make shirts, pants, hats, gloves or other clothing items. It turns clothing into "wearable computers," capable of monitoring things like how fast and how far a jogger runs, or the blood pressure and heart rate of a cardiac patient.
ADVANTAGES: Smart clothing/wearable computers are already on the market, but the current e-textiles in use have problems. Some sensors only work well if they are placed a certain distance apart on a garment. If the user rolls up the shirt sleeves or pants legs, or other changes occur while the e-textile garment is being worn, the network of sensors needs to be able to "sense" the reconfiguration and adjust accordingly in order to perform effectively. The e-textiles being developed at Virginia Tech will be able to sense their own shapes, the wearer's motions, and the positions of the sensing elements.
WHAT'S NEXT: The Virginia Tech researchers are working with a major textile manufacturer in Virginia, Dan River, Inc., to determine whether e-textiles can be made using traditional manufacturing techniques. To that end, they will test a prototype e-textile fabric on Dan River's existing looms. If this works, wiring will be woven into the fabric using the looms, and the sensors will be attached after the garments are completed.
HOW SENSORS WORK: Sensors are tiny electronic devices that can both detect and generate electrical signals from the movement and position of any given object, including the motion of the human body. These signals are then transmitted wirelessly to a microcontroller and analyzed using specially designed algorithms.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.