As a working concept, smart fabric solves many challenges for wearable health tech. If your preferred or prescribed biometric sensors are woven into your garments, you won’t have to remember to put them on, unlike with wristbands, pins, and pendants. Energy-harvesting yarn from nanotubes developed by engineers from the University of Texas at Dallas and Hanyang University in South Korea could replace battery packs and other power sources. If our favorite t-shirt has washable electronics embedded or woven in the fabric, durability wouldn’t be an issue if you wear it every other day and always on weekends.

Computer scientists at Darmouth College have developed joint motion-sensing, smart fabric with potential applications for athletes and people in rehab following injuries or surgery. The researchers published their work in Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. According to Qijia Shao, a Darmouth PhD student, their technology is portable, comfortable, and able to sense subtle movements and motion. Whether used with athletes or patients in physical therapy, the smart fabric monitor the effectiveness of training or treatments. Current joint-monitoring technology uses sensors or instrumented environments, Shao said, which limits the practicality of long-term monitoring. The Dartmouth monitoring design starts with standard, inexpensive fabric comprising nylon, elastic fiber, and conductive yarns coated with a thin silver layer. The team made two prototypes, each with a fitted microcontroller to sense skin deformation and pressure during joint movement.

The published study included the result of testing ten participants with the prototype design. The smart fabric sensors had a median error of 9.60 degrees in reconstructing joint angles. That level of precision is considered a low error rate and could be helpful in patient rehabilitation. The test subjects also reported the garment was comfortable, flexible, and easy to use. Future work for the Darmouth scientists includes designing better fit to reduce error and incorporating sweat sensors.

The full ramifications of garments that can detect motion hold promise for a wide range of applications, In addition to the present focus on athletic coaching and patient rehab, for example, we can also think of applications for the youngest and most elderly people that track their locations.