Sunday, 14 October 2012

caring clothes


Sensor button

The average new car has over 100  sensors, our smartphones have at least 10,  the average new washing machine has over 8. The car sensors look after  the engine and safety aspects of our vehicles, and in the washing machine the sensors calculate an efficient wash cycle. Aircraft have black box accident recorders to do crash analysis and make planes safer in future. However our bodies for generally healthy people have no such 24/7 care.
Why is this? One reason is the devices have not yet been developed, we do not like to be thought of as ill people,  and current devices are costly. We design our clothes to be beautiful and to keep us warm. We do not want geeky lumps,  bumps, switches,  or batteries  detracting from these features. Many would find useful clothes and shoes  that can care for us, warn us of dangers, measure sports performance etc. When our clothing measures (using accelerometers) that  we have been sat in front of the computer too long, a gentle nudge from our clothing to switch us out of "couch potato" mode can be useful.   Some of us might like sensors to warn others of  falls in the home, baby nappy care, or just to wake us up in the morning when our Smart  T- shirt detect we have had enough sleep. These are all old ideas, but with all our technology, we still hear of cyclists and car drivers  falling into ditches,  and being so injured for days  they cannot even use their smart  phone to call for help.

What design features can help to embed these sensors into clothes ? The sensors must be invisible and not detract from the clothing. We don't all want to look like astronauts! The sensors should not need on/off switches and should be able to send messages to our phones. If we do want to switch our sensors on and off, this should be as intuitive as doing up a button.   Being small and  able to stitch  the sensors into the seams of clothes during manufacture would help as seams would be able to disguise any additional thickness of the sensors. We do not want the inconvenience of being able to change batteries. Can we  harvest power from the wash cycle motion of our washing machine? There is research to indicate that is possible for low currents.
Much of the hardware for this health monitoring exists already. We have our smartphones for the high end processing and communicating to others if we need help. Re the tiny sensors,  from Nov 2012 every new car in the UK will need Tyre Pressure Measurements systems. (This has been law in the USA for a while). These legal requirements have provided   tiny sensors 7 x7 mm for monitoring our car tyre pressure, acceleration in 2 dimensions, temperature, with the  microcontroller and radio built in. These sensors just need power.

Texas TPMS is the size of a shirt button.

Girton Labs and Associates plans to prototype some of these systems.