IMEC, a Belgian research and development and innovation hub that specializes in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, developed a medical-grade electrocardiogram (ECG) with breathing rate and breathing depth. Researchers at Holst in the Netherlands used the IMEC ECG in their “smart shirt” prototype, designed for use in a variety of applications since the sensors are 60 µm thin and up to 100% stretchable.
The shirt continuously monitors ECG, respiration and motion with an IMEC ultra-low power, multi-sensor data acquisition chip. Using compact and distinct dry electrodes, the smart shirt monitors the heart without the need for a chest strap. The electrodes are made from screen-printable, electrically-conductive inks made by DuPont and the detachable sensor is 50-by-30-by-10 mm and weighs only 12 g.
A single battery charge allows the shirt to be operational for two days because of its low-power sensor and radio electronics. It can also withstand 25 wash cycles in domestic laundry using the Holst Center technology.
“The new vital signs shirt demonstrator shows how printed electronics can truly improve lives, in this case by enabling continuous and precise monitoring of clinical-grade, biometric data from the comfort of one’s home,” said Kerry Adams, printed electronics market segment manager at DuPont, said in a press release. “We are proud to enable this kind of innovation with our stretchable electronic inks and look forward to our continued participation in Holst Center’s printed electronics development program.”
Data that is gathered from the sensors in the shirt can be transferred wirelessly to a smartphone using the shirt’s wireless BTLE system for real-time readings. The developers hope that the shirt could help hospital patients get home sooner from the hospital by creating a high-quality cardiac monitor from home.
“As a designer, the technology platform from the Holst Center ecosystem is great to work with. You are completely free to design any kind of garment and application you want to, and know that the designed electronics will be easily integrated as part of the normal manufacturing process,” said shirt designer Marina Toeters, from by-wire.net.
The electrodes in the shirt can be laminated to any piece of clothing at the final stage of production. The “smart shirt” design allows for it to be easily tailored for the best electrode to skin contact. That allows it to suppress motion artifacts that are beneficial for the performance of the electronics and the user.
E-textiles, also known as smart clothing, are not a new concept. Many smart garments have electronics embedded into them, like small computers or fiber optics, for health monitoring and fashion, according to a Forbes article. Designers Ying Gao and CuteCircuit use e-textiles to create LED lighted clothes, while R&D company Grado Zero Espace is creating innovative technologies with different types of materials.
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