Tech bra has hearts racing
It counts heartbeats and could be 1st in a wave of `smart fabrics
Submitted by nestorb on Wed, 2005-12-14 13:08.
Dec. 14, 2005 -- 'FRANK GREVE - Knight Ridder - WASHINGTON - A new sports bra that counts heartbeats is causing a stir.
The bra, introduced this week, is the first consumer product to be based on an electronic interaction between a textile and its wearer. A special conductive fabric in the chest band, when it's wet, picks up the heart's pulse and sends it to a digital readout wristwatch via a tiny transmitter in the bra.
Such "smart fabrics" are the next big thing in so many fields that some analysts predict they'll change the world as much as the Internet did.
"The applications are limitless, and they're for everybody," said Spyros Photopoulos, an analyst at Venture Development Corp., a technology market-research firm in Natick, Mass. According to Photopoulos, "hundreds" of companies are chasing the potential of miniaturized electronics that people can wear.
A medical application for a smart shirt that monitors heart rate and respiration with the help of sensors and wiring woven into its spandex already has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The shirt, made by VivoMetrics of Ventura, Calif., is used to monitor patients with a respiratory disturbance called sleep apnea.
A future variant worn by chronically ill patients at home could extend their lives by enabling doctors to better monitor their health and to intervene faster when trouble arises.
Many researchers expect the Pentagon to back the development of smart fabrics. An Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which the Army launched in 2002 with $50 million, is the biggest visible step in that direction. It's developing fatigues woven with electronics that would report a soldier's location and vital signs to officers and medics.
Stacey Burr, chief executive of Textronics Inc., which makes the sports bra, said her firm and others were working on sports apparel to monitor respiration, the proportion of lung capacity used, length of stride and other indicators vital to athletes.
Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN), MIT
The Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) is an interdepartmental research center at MIT. Established in 2002 by a five-year, $50 million contract from the U.S. Army, the ISN's research mission is to use nanotechnology to dramatically improve the survival of soldiers. The ultimate goal is to create a 21st century battlesuit that combines high-tech capabilities with light weight and comfort. Imagine a bullet-proof jumpsuit, no thicker than ordinary spandex, that monitors health, eases injuries, communicates automatically, and maybe even lends superhuman abilities. It's a long-range vision for how technology can make soldiers less vulnerable to enemy and environmental threats. You can see dramatic examples of how research will achieve these goals in a newly released 12-minute video about the ISN, its mission, and its research program.
Today’s dismounted infantry soldier carries a back-breaking load, usually 100-140 pounds, and still has insufficient ballistic protection, little defense against chemical and biological weapons, and too many pieces of equipment that don’t work well together. The ISN’s challenge is to transform today’s cotton/nylon fatigues and bulky equipment belts to a sleek, lightweight battlesuit that provides everything from responsive armor to medical monitoring to communications—and more—in one integrated system.
Nanotechnology fits into this vision in two important ways. First, it offers the potential for miniaturization, a key part of reducing weight. Today’s hefty radio worn on a harness might be reduced to a button-sized tab on the collar. And a waterproof poncho could be replaced by a permanent nano-thin coating applied to everything the soldier carries. Secondly, because nanotechnology operates at length scales where classical macroscopic physics breaks down, it offers engineers the potential for creating unprecedented new materials properties and devices. Nanotechnology can solve problems that scientists have been struggling with for decades. MIT's School of Engineering has produced a video about nanotechnology at MIT that features several examples of the ISN's research (scroll to the last video on the page).
The ISN’s vision for the soldier of the future is part of a larger transformation going on today in the U.S. Army. Faced with new threats and challenges, the Army is redesigning itself as a lighter, faster, more agile force that can be deployed quickly where soldiers are needed. The ISN supports the Army’s Future Force Warrior program, which aims to achieve a soldier-centric force enabled by an integrated individual combat system.