Imperial College London press release
*Videos and images available for download in notes to eds*
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wearable sensors styled into t-shirts and face masks
Imperial researchers have embedded new low-cost sensors that monitor breathing, heart rate, and ammonia into t-shirts and face masks.
Potential applications range from monitoring exercise, sleep, and stress to diagnosing and monitoring disease through breath and vital signs.
Spun from a new Imperial-developed cotton-based conductive thread called PECOTEX, the sensors cost little to manufacture. Just $0.15 produces a metre of thread to seamlessly integrate more than ten sensors into clothing, and PECOTEX is compatible with industry-standard computerised embroidery machines.
First author of the research Fahad Alshabouna, PhD candidate at Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering, said: “The flexible medium of clothing means our sensors have a wide range of applications. They’re also relatively easy to produce which means we could scale up manufacturing and usher in a new generation of wearables in clothing.”
The research team embroidered the sensors into a face mask to monitor breathing, a t-shirt to monitor heart activity, and textiles to monitor gases like ammonia, a component of the breath that can be used to track liver and kidney function. The ammonia sensors were developed to test whether gas sensors could also be manufactured using embroidery.
Fahad added: “We demonstrated applications in monitoring cardiac activity and breathing, and sensing gases. Future potential applications include diagnosing and monitoring disease and treatment, monitoring the body during exercise, sleep, and stress, and use in batteries, heaters, anti-static clothing."
The research is published today in Materials Today.
Wearable sensors, like those on smartwatches, let us continuously monitor our health and wellbeing non-invasively. Until now, however, there has been a lack of suitable conductive threads, which explains why wearable sensors seamlessly integrated into in clothing aren’t yet widely available.
Enter PECOTEX. Developed and spun into sensors by Imperial researchers, the material is machine washable, and is less breakable and more electrically conductive than commercially available silver-based conductive threads, meaning more layers can be added for to create complex types of sensor.
Lead author Dr Firat Guder, also of the Department of Bioengineering, said: “PECOTEX is high-performing, strong, and adaptable to different needs. It’s readily scalable, meaning we can produce large volumes inexpensively using both domestic and industrial computerised embroidery machines.
“Our research opens up exciting possibilities for wearable sensors in everyday clothing. By monitoring breathing, heart rate, and gases, they can already be seamlessly integrated, and might even be able to help diagnose and monitor treatments of disease in the future.”
Next, the researchers will explore new application areas like energy storage, energy harvesting and biochemical sensing, as well as finding partners for commercialisation.
This study was funded by the Saudi Ministry of Education, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC, part of the UKRI), Cytiva, Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the US Army.
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NOTES TO EDITORS
The researchers tested the sensors against commercially available silver-based conductive threads during and after they were embroidered into clothing. During embroidery, PECOTEX was more reliable and less likely to break, allowing for more layers to be embroidered on top of each other. Following embroidery, PECOTEX demonstrated lower electrical resistance than the silver-based threads, meaning they were better at conducting electricity.
“PEDOT:PSS-Modified Cotton Conductive Thread for Mass Manufacturing of Textile-Based Electrical Wearable Sensors by Computerized Embroidery” by Fahad Alshabouna et al., published September 2022 in Materials Today.
For videos of the sensors in action see: imperialcollegelondon.box.com/s/9azcl2ow9frf4kfkz7x78rs7nu5ra9wt
About Imperial College London
Imperial College London is one of the world's leading universities. The College's 22,000 students and 8,000 staff are working to solve the biggest challenges in science, medicine, engineering and business.
Imperial is University of the Year 2022 in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide. It is the world’s sixth most international university, according to Times Higher Education, with academic ties to more than 150 countries. Reuters named the College as the UK's most innovative university because of its exceptional entrepreneurial culture and ties to industry.
Imperial has a greater proportion of world-leading research than any other UK university, according to the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Imperial ranks first in the UK for research outputs, first in the UK for research environment, and first for research impact among Russell Group universities.
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