The photo above may look a bit like a satellite surveillance photo of a water treatment plant, but it’s actually something quite different. What you see in the image are sensors that have been embroidered on the inside of a pair of running leggings, as part of a research project to reduce injuries in runners due to muscle fatigue.
The project was conducted by researchers from King’s College in London, England, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Barcelona. They were trying to solve the problem of how to monitor a runner’s muscle activity. The current best practice requires inserting fine wires into a subject’s leg, careful sensor placement, and expensive equipment that generally means that testing will be confined to a lab setting. The researchers wanted an inexpensive, reliable, and lightweight system that could collect data as the subject exercised in real world conditions. By sewing the sensors into the correct locations on the garment, they were able to eliminate the problem of correct placement of the sensors. The sensors measure surface electromyography (sEMS) and are connected by flexible electrodes to an Arduino-powered controller that records and stores the data. In this experiment, the data was uploaded later for analysis of muscle fatigue over time during the exercise period.
While this is a research project, it points the way to other applications beyond monitoring athletes. Adding wireless communication for real-time processing of the sensor data, smart pants like these could be used to diagnose muscle injury from a variety of causes. The technology could be helpful in physical therapy for stroke and accident victims, analyzing their motion and helping them learn how to walk again.