Last week, Imec and the Holst Centre jointly announced the development of a t-shirt that can monitor the wearer’s movement and heart activity. The key feature of this technology demonstration is that the shirt uses flexible smart fabric interconnects to gather data from electrodes embedded in the shirt. This data is then fed to a SIM-sized controller card that then wirelessly transmits it to a smartphone or other device.
The system can continuously monitor heart rate and heart rate variability. Since it also senses the wearer’s motion and activity level, the combined data can be used to estimate calorie consumption and other useful information. The system is designed with lower power consumption in mind, and the developers estimate that it could be used for continuous data retrieval during “three Iron Man races back-to-back.”
The system is reportedly compatible with standard textile manufacturing processes, and could be put into production. The developers also view it as a platform for other sensors, such as hydration level or breathing rate. They are also looking into ways that the shirt could communicated directly with the wearer, without requiring a smartphone or other device. They are exploring the use of audible signals, LED indicators, or haptic feedback. They even envision incorporating a smart display in the design.
A very cool technology, but what clinical need does having this woven into a shirt solve? There are already a multitude of products available that remotely measure ECG, heart rate variability, temperature, motion, respiratory rate in small band-aid size patches that are about the same size as the SIM controller card that you have to carry with this product). A user can already get all of this info, and you can wear whatever shirt you want (or not wear a shirt) while doing it.
Eric, the details in the IMEC/Host Centre press release were sketchy, but I suspect that this system provides a much more accurate heart reading than a wristband can. You cannot get an ECG reading from a wristband. If you touch the band with your other hand, you can the equivalent of a single-lead ECG, but to get rich information about the nature of a subject’s heartbeat, you need multiple contacts. I expect that this t-shirt contains many electrodes that are in contact with the wearer’s chest, and that these provide the equivalent of a multi-lead ECG. This is certainly overkill for a simple fitness application, but for patients with chronic conditions such as an arrhythmia or heart failure, the additional data could be of critical value.