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Could the next Fitbit be woven into the clothing you wear?

Technology is moving forward at such a rate that your clothing could soon become smart devices.

By Tom Ball

Researchers have created a new fabric that could monitor and transmit data on human movement and function as a digital device in the form of an item of clothing.

The technology involves extremely sensitive capacitors, and the fabric is structured with a layer of silicone in-between layers of conductive fabric.

Measurements of the fabric’s sensitivity show reactions to less than half a millimetre of movement, this indicates the ease and accuracy with which the technology could track movement for fitness purposes.

A new precedent may be set for smart apparel by this new development, as actual computing elements are intended to be incorporated without contributing to the impediment of activity.

Behind the project is Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, working alongside Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Could the next Fitbit be woven into the clothes you wear?

If the new development proves viable, the function of more cumbersome fitness devices that commonly take the form of watches and attachable pedometers, may be assumed by items of clothing.

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Co-author Daniel Vogt, in a statement announcing the new research said: “When we apply strain by pulling on the sensor from the ends, the silicone layer gets thinner and the conductive fabric layers get closer together, which changes the capacitance of the sensor in a way that’s proportional to the amount of strain applied… We can measure how much the sensor is changing shape.”

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The potential this new technology holds to influence and improve the way we live may be greater even that first anticipated, with use concepts extending into the realms of robotics and exoskeletons to provide physical support in addition to useful data.

A researcher involved in work on the project, Asli Atalay said: “There is a growing interest in utilizing textile technology in soft robotic systems… For example, the Wyss Institute develops fabric-based assistive robots to help people with physical impairments such as spinal cord injury or ALS. Another example is monitoring breath rate with sensors integrated into garments to prevent sleep apnea.”

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