At the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) researchers have developed special textile threads that can be used to detect slight variations in how a fabric is stretched, the pressures that are applied to it, and even the torque that twists it. The capability may end up being used in clothing and even bed sheets to continuously monitor people’s breathing and heart rates, body movement, and other parameters that may be useful in medicine and healthcare.
“Imagine clothing or hospital bed sheets capable of monitoring your breathing and other vital movements, or AI-powered textiles that allow robots to interact more safely and intuitively with humans” said Andreas Leber, one of the leads of a study appearing in Nature Electronics. “The soft transmission lines that we’ve developed open the door to all of this.”
The transmission lines that Leber refers to are made of optical fibers, liquid metals, and elastomers, which have been incorporated together in a sophisticated arrangement. Near perfection, at a micrometer resolution, is necessary for these lines to be able to provide accurate results regarding how they are flexed, twisted, and pushed on.
To use the fibers to simultaneously measure a number of parameters, a separate device sends an electric current through the novel fibers and the returning signals are constantly analyzed and recorded to determine where the fiber is malformed and how. Everything happens pretty much instantaneously and even nuanced changes in the fibers’ shape can be detected.
While the new fibers are flexible and can be integrated with existing textiles, all the additional electronics that power and sense the fibers will still have to be miniaturized in order for the technology to become practical.
Study in Nature Electronics: Soft and stretchable liquid metal transmission lines as distributed probes of multimodal deformations