What is Wearable Technology?
Wearable technology refers to clothing and fabrics made of textiles embedded with technology. Embedded technology such as flexible circuitry, flexible antennas and adequate power sources are key components to allow the reliable and successful operation of any wearable technology. We are currently working on two different wearable technology projects: fabric antenna sensors and knitbots.
Fabric antenna sensors are a new creation that we have made in partnership with Profs. Genevieve Dion, Kapil Dandekar, Tim Kurzweg at the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Laboratory located in the ExCITe Center at Drexel University. Silver-coated yarn is knitted into an antenna pattern using Shima Seiki industrial knitting machines. When the knitted antenna is stretched, the change in size, shape, and tension in the fabric cause changes in antenna properties, namely a change in its central frequency. Therefore this technology can be applied as a sensor for stretch in fabric. This has a huge number of potential applications, but the current application we are focusing on is for our Smart Fabric Bellyband: a band of fabric worn around the stomach of a pregnant woman to comfortably measure uterine contractions.
Knitbots are knitted robots made from wool and nitinol, a shape memory alloy. The expanding force produced by the annealed nitinol counteracts the contracting force from the knitted structure, allowing the "robot" to move.
Why Study Wearable Technology?
Smart garments have the potential to impact many fields, including but not limited to biomedical, military, and homeland security. In the biomedical field the technology can enable messaging and/or monitoring to communicate physiological parameters including breathing, vital signs, fetal heart rate, etc. Wearable sensors provide a means to monitor the wearers health through physiological measurements in a natural setting or can be used to detect any potential hazards in close proximity to the wearer. Military personnel can integrate real-time monitoring and feedback systems into body armor, jackets, and even footware. Homeland security applications include embedded chemical and biological sensors, flexible conformal displays, and high-speed wifi, cellular, and satellite telecommunications.
Currently we are working towards implementing fabric antenna sensors into a "Smart Fabric Bellyband." This band would be worn by a pregnant mother as a device to measure uterine activity and contractions. Current devices are cumbersome, tethered, restrict moment, and are uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. We want to replace these devices with our Bellyband. The fabric antenna sensors will pick up deformation changes due to contractions and can be monitored cheaply, wirelessly, and more accurately than the strain-based technology used today. Further work will incorporate EKG sensors for monitoring fetal activity.
Our knitbots are being optimized to provide controlled and consistent movement. Once optimized, this technology can be used in invertebrate and small-scale robotics as a replacement for conventional motors and actuators.