21 May 2019
Engineers have developed a low-cost sensor embedded into fabric, which monitors and interprets human movements, paving the way for wearable health tech.
A low-cost sensor which can be interlaced into textiles and composite materials has been developed by researchers at University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan’s School of Engineering, offering the emerging market in ‘smart clothing’ a promising future.
Microscopic sensors are enhancing the ways we can detect small body movements. This is because microscopic sensors are embedded into the fabric of clothing to monitor the user’s body movements through the stretching of woven yarns, treated with graphene nanoparticles to track movements and actions.
The technology relies on the principle of piezo-resistivity – an electromechanical response of a material when under strain. These piezoresistive changes are detected by sensors which in hand, allows them to pick up on body activities. These tiny sensors have shown the potential to detect human movements, including heart rates and temperatures.
A yarn sensor is washable and wearable and can be woven into spandex material and wrapped into a stretchable silicone sheath. This sheath protects the conductive layer against environmental variables, allowing for wearable sensors to be washable.
Smart clothing has many potential benefits. One promising development includes the benefit of using smart fabrics for athletic clothing. Predominantly it can be used as a self-tracker, informing the user on when to hydrate or rest, acting as a health monitoring device.
Its use to monitor deformations in fibre composite fabrics can be useful to multiple industries, including automotive, aerospace, and marine manufacturing.
Researchers are currently investigating further improvements in fine tuning the material blend to improve its electrical conductivity and sensitivity. The potential enhancements will make it possible to capture major flaws like ‘fibre wrinkling’ during the process of producing advanced composite structures, such as those used in airplanes or car bodies.
Professor Abbas Milani, Director of the UBC Materials and Manufacturing Research Institute, said: ‘Integrating sensor technologies like piezo-resistive sensors made of flexible materials compatible with the host textile reinforcement is becoming a real game-changer in the emerging era of smart manufacturing and current automated industry trends.’