Scientists Have Found a Way to Weave Wearable Sensors Into Fabric
Wearable tech can be as simple as an activity tracker that collects information like step count and heart rate. But the potential of wearable tech goes much further: researchers have created a wearable patch that harnesses the users' sweat to generate energy, which is enough to power a radio. Other engineers have developed a wearable chip that can help to diagnose and identify disease within the body. Clearly, wearables are becoming a much more serious field of tech.
One team of engineers is taking wearable technology and making it much more...well...wearable. At Harvard, Asli Atalay, a textile engineer, and her team have created a "fabric" that seems, at first glance, like gray, extra-stretchy t-shirt material. A blend of nylon and spandex, this stretchy material has a shiny, metallic underside. This sheen comes from an actual silver coating on the fibers. This coating doesn't impede the flexibility of the fabric at all, but it does allow it to conduct electricity.
Image Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University
Current wearable tech often utilizes silicon chips, bulky bracelets, and other tech that might not feel 100% natural. But this soft sensor is softer, stretchy, and cozy, all while retaining its conductive abilities. This new fabric doesn't advance the capabilities of current wearables, but it makes wearable tech, in general, potentially a lot more comfortable.
Conor Walsh, a bioengineer and co-author of the paper, stated that it's as simple as if "You put on a t-shirt, a sweater, a pair of socks-you could have these types of sensors embedded in them." And, while this tech could potentially allow for fitness trackers and health monitors to be worn in a much more comfortable manner—especially for those who are elderly or who have handicaps or injuries—it could do much more.
This type of development has the potential to revolutionize exoskeleton technology. Exoskeletons allow users who might be faced with conditions as severe as paralysis to use their limbs in a manner that otherwise might be impossible. This fabric could, over time, be used to develop exoskeletons that are less bulky and potentially more cost-effective and accessible to patients. The applications for such a seemingly simple fabric might allow researchers to bring sci-fi technologies to life.