Wearable sensors have many applications — from improving athletic performance to monitoring health. Unfortunately, having sensors attached to your body can be cumbersome and uncomfortable. That is, until now.
MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab has developed a new type of fiber that can be woven into the clothing you already wear, while doubling as a sensor that can monitor the position of your body. The soft, stretchy, breathable fibers are inexpensive to produce and suitable for automated fabrication processes. Through a piezoresistive effect, the fibers are able to detect when, and where, pressure is applied to them.
When producing a large number of sensors in this fashion, it is expected that some of the sensors will work better than others, and some will be totally non-functional. To correct for these scenarios and normalize the response data, a self-supervised machine learning algorithm was developed. With the help of this algorithm, the developers have been able to correlate wearers’ activities and body positions with the sensor data.
The prototyped articles of clothing produced include gloves, socks, and vests. Capturing data from these various sources, the researchers believe relevant information about an athlete’s performance and form can be gleaned by a coach. They also envision the technology being used in assisted living facilities to watch for residents that may have fallen or become unconscious.
Longer term, the team sees their invention giving robots an artificial “skin” that can give them tactile sensing abilities similar to what humans have.
Building sensors into everyday articles of clothing is a significant advancement for wearable sensing. Time will tell how useful these fibers are in real world applications — and also how receptive people are to being monitored by their clothes.