There is a new smart t-shirt in town, and it is no ordinary tee. On 23-24 June at the Imec Technology Forum (ITF) in Brussels, developers demonstrated an advanced smart garment that is able to measure a highly accurate electrocardiogram (ECG), recognize activity and calculate energy expenditure in an unobtrusive way.
Simply put, they have placed electronics in a removable SD card that can be slotted into a t-shirt which in turn will monitor data such as the wearer’s heart rate, heart rate variability, activities performed and calories burned, and share information over the cloud via a mobile phone, tablet or PC. Exciting? Definetly but we must bear in mind that the smart tee is nothing new. Many have thrown their smart tee ideas into the FashionTech arena. A good example is designer Ralph Lauren. Announced in 2014 and launched in 2015, the fashionable sportswear with wearable technology is currently only available on pre-order. The stylish Ralph Polo Tech smart shirt is a compressed garment that comes with technology from a Canadian firm, OMsignal. How it works is that it collects, in a small black-box-type recorder, detailed information about a wearer’s heart rate, breathing and activity.
Putting Ralph aside, lets take a closer look at the tee in question, the imec Smart T-shirt. Ruben de Francisco, Program Manager Wearable Health Solutions at Imec/Holst Centre explains; “Wearable technology that measures body parameters has become increasingly popular in recent years. Smart garments have the ability to tackle a vast range of applications from fitness tracking and healthcare monitoring to safety applications, such as firefighters working in dangerous situations. Today, on-body sensing is performed using very tight, compression garments. At imec and Holst Centre, we want to extend the functionality of smart garments and deliver medical-grade data through looser, everyday clothes.”
The smart t-shirt boasts imec and Holst Centre’s flexible smart fabric which ensures that the comfortable tee allows for natural movement when worn. The tee also brags interconnect technology and miniaturized electronics (1.5cm x 2cm x 2mm) that have been integrated into a module of the size of an extended SD card. The card contains imec’s high accuracy and ultra-low power multi-sensor data acquisition chip (M– USEIC) with embedded processing, a battery and a Bluetooth Low Energy radio chip. The module weighs only 7 grams (including the battery), and can be removed to wash the shirt or charge the battery.
The key is in preserving the original properties of the fabric, so the tee remains flexible, stretchable, breathable, lightweight and washable. Imec and Holst Centre’s have managed to do this by ensuring that the patented flexible and stretchable interconnect technology has been preserved. Whilst in the midst of developing their smart t-shirt, Imec and Holst Centre embraced complete freedom when it came to placing sensors, actuators and electronics to ensure the highest data quality. This ensured that the smart electronic functionality was fully compatible with most standard material production processes and conventional textile manufacturing, enabling rapid industrialization.
On this Jeroen van den Brand, Program Manager Integration Technologies for Flexible Systems at Holst Centre/imec stated; “The power consumption of our smart t-shirt has been optimized to achieve long battery autonomy, enabling a wearer to be continuously monitored for the equivalent of three Iron Man races back-to-back. It also offers the perfect platform to integrate additional capabilities such as breathing rate measurements and dehydration monitoring. And we are exploring ways to extend the functionality and to render the garment more communicative, e.g. to feedback the data to wearers. This can be done by integrating simple LED indicators, actuators for haptic feedback or, in the longer term, smart display technologies.”
With their developments showing such promise, Imec is the company too watch. Known for performing world-leading research in nanoelectronics, Imec leverages its scientific knowledge with the innovative power of its global partnerships in ICT, healthcare and energy. Imec delivers industry-relevant technology solutions and is committed to providing the building blocks for a better life in a sustainable society.
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