Would you like digital clothing constantly monitoring your vital signs?

22-09-2015 |   |  By Paul Whytock

Technology marketeers are very keen these days to convince us that wearable devices like fitness monitors are part of everyday life. Well, I don't know about you but they are not part of my everyday life and I am sure that is the case for many people. The thought of having constantly supplied feedback and analysis of my state of health, particularly after a heavy social round at the weekend, is not something I really wish to know about....well, not until I've had that rejuvenating paracetamol sandwich and industrial strength morning coffee.

But for those perpetual hypochondriacs and fitness fanatics out there who are keen to have every element of their cardiac sinus rhythm constantly analysed and their prevailing fitness levels reassuring relayed to them I have some very good technology news that I'm sure will send them into frenetic spasms of star jumps.

High-tech clothing

Researchers at the Holst Centre have demonstrated what they say is the world’s first stretchable and conformable thin-film transistor (TFT) driven LED display that can be laminated into textiles. This technological breakthrough makes possible integral information displays in clothing that could provide wearers of such electronically enabled garments with life-tracking feedback.

There is no doubt that sartorially embedded devices could prove to be more comfortable and visually more discreet than wearing something that looks like a form of asbo-electronic tagging device.

And, when it comes to the accurate monitoring of medical conditions that is needed by people who have health problems then this sort of life-tracking clothing could very well prove to be a crucial breakthrough.

The key design challenge in realising wearable devices in clothing is creating displays that can be integrated into textiles to allow interaction with the wearer.

The conformable display developed at the Holst Centre is very thin and mechanically stretchable. A fine-grained version of the already proven meander interconnect technology was developed by the CMST lab at Ghent University and Holst Centre to link standard (rigid) LEDs into a flexible and stretchable display. The LED displays are fabricated on a polyimide substrate and encapsulated in rubber, allowing the displays to be laminated into textiles that can be washed.

Importantly, this technology uses fabrication procedures that are already known to the manufacturing industry. The advantage of that is many previous design attempts to create wearable technology have relied on very complicated technology and the problem with that is it creates end-product price levels that are unrealistically high. It could be that the Holst Centre's elegant solution has resolved that impediment to commercial success.


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By Paul Whytock

Paul Whytock is European Editor for Electropages. He has reported extensively on the electronics industry in Europe, the United States and the Far East for over twenty years. Prior to entering journalism he worked as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company at locations in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

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