Smart clothing, smart fabrics, and smart yarns have great potential for a wide range of wearable applications. If your shirt can track vital signs data and your pants can monitor your workouts, you don’t need separate wearable devices. We’ve written in the past about smart fabric that speeds rehab and recovery with motion-sensing. Another intelligent material uses neurostimulation to help quadriplegics control movement.

Scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne‘s (EPFL) School of Engineering Laboratory of Photonic Materials and Fibre Devices (FIMAP) have developed soft, stretchable, liquid metal sensor lines that use reflectometry to detect motion in many forms. The multimodal smart sensors convert motion to electrical signals. Transmission lines built with the sensors are embedded in fabric; they can detect stretch, pressure, torque, and more. The team published a paper that describes how they designed the smart soft sensors in Nature Electronics.

The EPFL scientists envision their technology used in applications such as clothing or hospital bedsheets that monitor breathing and other vital signs. The group also imagines AI-powered textiles used with robots to aid interaction with humans.

Reducing the size of peripheral electronics that work with their smart fabric is the next significant challenge for the EPFL team. Most smart thread or clothing we read and write about have single-focus applications. It’s exciting to imagine multimodal smart sensors in clothing as a base technology for wide-ranging applications.