Imperial researchers have incorporated new low-cost sensors that monitor breathing, heart rate and ammonia into T-shirts and face masks.
Potential applications range from monitoring exercise, sleep and stress to diagnosing and monitoring diseases through breath and vital signs.
Spun from a new Imperial-developed cotton-based conductive thread called PECOTEX, the sensors cost little to manufacture. Just $0.15 produces a meter of thread to seamlessly integrate more than ten sensors into clothing, and PECOTEX is compatible with industry-standard computerized embroidery machines.
Lead author of the study Fahad Alshabouna, PhD candidate in Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering, said: “The flexible medium of clothing means that our sensors have a wide range of applications. They are also relatively easy to manufacture, meaning we can manufacture scale and usher in a new generation of wearables in apparel.”
The research team embroidered the sensors into a face mask to monitor breathing, a t-shirt to monitor heart activity, and textiles to monitor gases such as ammonia, a component of breath that can be used to monitor liver and kidney function. The ammonia sensors have been developed to test whether gas sensors can also be manufactured with embroidery.
Fahad added: “We have demonstrated applications for monitoring cardiac activity and respiration and detecting gases. Future potential applications include diagnosing and monitoring disease and treatment, monitoring the body during exercise, sleep and stress, and use in batteries, heaters, anti-static clothing.”
The study was published today in materials today.
Wearable sensors, such as those on smartwatches, allow us to continuously monitor our health and well-being in a non-invasive way. Until now, however, there has been a lack of suitable conductive wires, which explains why wearable sensors that integrate seamlessly into clothing are not yet widely available.
Enter PECOTEX. The material was developed and spun into sensors by Imperial researchers. The material is machine washable and is less brittle and more electrically conductive than commercially available silver-based conductive wires, meaning more layers can be added to create complex types of sensors.
Lead author Dr. Firat Guder, also from the Bioengineering Department, said: “PECOTEX is high quality, strong and adaptable to different needs. It is easily scalable, meaning we can produce large volumes cheaply using both domestic and industrial computerized embroidery machines.
“Our research opens up exciting possibilities for wearable sensors in everyday clothing. By monitoring breathing, heart rate and gases, they can already be seamlessly integrated and may even help diagnose and monitor treatments for disease in the future.”
Next, the researchers will explore new application areas, such as energy storage, energy recovery and biochemical detection, and find partners for commercialization.
This study was funded by the Saudi Ministry of Education, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC, part of the UKRI), Cytiva, Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the US military.
Materials supplied by Imperial College London. Originally written by Caroline Brogan. Note: Content is editable for style and length.