A biomedical engineer is developing clothing which, besides providing cover, warmth, and style, keep its wearers healthy.
Danilo De Rossi, one of the founders of Smartex, uses the term 'The Wealthy outfit' as an acronym for the 'wearable health care system'. 'If I want to monitor a whole body, why not use clothes?' Wired News quoted De Rossi as saying.
The researcher has already developed a skin-tight tank suit fitted with sensors as a model. The outfit is powered by a tiny embedded lithium battery, and is washable. The suit reads the wearer's vital signs, and beams the data wirelessly to a computer. The in-built sensors gather information on the wearer's posture and movement.
Other components of the garment gauge electrical activity, and yield EKG data. Heat sensors measure temperature.
De Rossi envisions that some day health professionals may be able to monitor cardiac patients by unobtrusively tracking their vital signs as they go about their lives.
The researcher revealed that he began exploring the idea of fabric as a data-collection medium 12 years ago. Despite having nine electrodes and conductive leads woven in, the Wealthy suit looks and feels completely normal.
The challenge in incorporating sensors into clothing, even skin-tight unitards, is that the fabric shifts when the body moves, which results in sloppy, irregular signals.
De Rossi dealt with this problem by developing software algorithms to clean up the data, along with code to reconstruct the wearer's movements. His team is also working on piezoelectric shirts that will let disabled people operate a wheelchair using only shoulder nudges.
The researchers have also developed a Spider-Man-like glove made of red Lycra, which is so connected with a nearby computer as to enable it to translate sign language into words.
Most of the clothes De Rossi designs look hip, says the report. 'Even when you are sick, if you have something that doesn't look nice, you don't want to put it on,' De Rossi said.