Everyday Clothing May Soon Capture and Record Body Movements

New research from the Universities of Bristol and Bath reveals that everyday clothing may soon be able to capture and record body movements.

Credit: Olivia Ruston

In a breakthrough that could revolutionize the smart textile industry, researchers have developed a method for integrating conductive threads into garment seams. These threads called SeamSleeve create electrical circuits that change resistance with the wearer’s movements, allowing for precise motion sensing. This innovative approach paves the way for digital clothing capable of sensing and recording body movements far more accurately than existing technologies such as smartphones and smartwatches.

The research, presented at the Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) conference in Copenhagen this month, provides a blueprint for e-textile designers and clothing manufacturers to develop advanced garments. These garments have the potential to significantly enhance applications in exercise, physiotherapy, and rehabilitation, offering new tools for health and fitness professionals.

Professor Mike Fraser from the University of Bristol’s School of Computer Science expressed his enthusiasm about the research’s implications: “We’re excited by the opportunity for clothing manufacturers to implement our designs in sleeves and other garment seams. We’ve shown that common overlocked seams in standard garment constructions can do a good job of sensing movement.”

One of the standout features of this new technology is its seamless integration into existing manufacturing processes. The conductive threads do not require a separate power source; instead, they pair with a charging coil that draws energy wirelessly from a mobile phone placed in the wearer’s pocket. This means that clothing manufacturers can adopt this technology without needing to make significant changes to their production methods.

“This means advanced motion-sensing garments could be made without altering existing manufacturing processes,” Professor Fraser noted. This ease of integration could accelerate the adoption of smart clothing in the market, bringing sophisticated motion capture capabilities to everyday apparel.

The potential applications of this technology are vast. In the realm of exercise and sports, athletes could wear these garments to monitor their movements and optimize their training regimens. Physiotherapists could use them to track patients’ progress during rehabilitation, ensuring exercises are performed correctly and efficiently. The garments could also assist in remote health monitoring, providing valuable data to healthcare providers without requiring patients to visit a clinic.

The integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) further enhances the capabilities of these smart garments. The researchers have demonstrated that smartphone apps using advanced AI techniques can analyse the movement data captured by the conductive threads. These apps can match body movements to specific postures or gestures, such as those used in physiotherapy exercises. This AI-driven analysis could provide users with real-time feedback on their movements, helping them to improve their posture, technique, and overall performance.

To illustrate the effectiveness of their technique, the research team has produced a short film, which was showcased at the DIS conference. The film demonstrates how the conductive threads work and highlights the potential benefits of integrating this technology into everyday clothing.

The implications of this research are profound, particularly for professionals in the fields of health, fitness, and textile manufacturing. By making advanced motion-sensing capabilities accessible through ordinary garments, this technology could transform how we monitor and improve physical performance and rehabilitation. It represents a significant step forward in the development of smart textiles and wearable technology.

For those interested in exploring this groundbreaking research further, the full paper is available through the DIS conference proceedings. For more detailed information, please refer to the full paper “SeamSleeve: Robust Arm Movement Sensing through Powered Stitching” presented at the DIS conference.

Staff Writer

Our in-house science writing team has prepared this content specifically for Lab Horizons

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