MIT's New 'Smart Clothing' Measures Wearer's Movements

The researchers created prototypes of smart socks, vests, gloves, and even a robot sleeve to test the new technology.
Chris Young

Though many exciting advances in wearable technologies have been made in recent years, we are yet to see a wearable that measures your exact physical movements. Such a device could potentially offer feedback for an individual's form in sport or fitness activities.

In a bid to make such a technology a reality, researchers from MIT CSAIL have developed "tactile electronics." Their findings, which could be used to eventually mass-produce clothing that detect a user's movement, were published in Nature Electronics.

The researchers created a special type of fiber that senses pressure and turns that pressure into electrical signals. The machine-knitted "tactile electronics" are made of a mix of traditional textile fibers alongside a small amount of the custom-made fibers pressure-sensing fibers.

"Traditionally it's been hard to develop a mass-production wearable that provides high-accuracy data across a large number of sensors," CSAIL graduate student Yiyue Luo, lead author on the paper, explains in a press release.

"When you manufacture lots of sensor arrays, some of them will not work and some of them will work worse than others, so we developed a self-correcting mechanism that uses a self-supervised machine learning algorithm to recognize and adjust when certain sensors in the design are off base," Luo continues.

Smart clothing and robot 'skins'

The MIT researchers created several prototypes of smart socks, vests, gloves, and even a robot sleeve. The "smart socks" were able to determine if a person was squatting, lunging, walking, or walking down a flight of stairs. The "smart vest", on the other hand, could detect whether a person was resting a hand on their chest or leaning into an object.

The researchers say their work has a whole host of potential applications. Smart clothing, for example, could determine a person's physique before recommending a particular exercise. During exercise, such a technology could also make sure the wearer is employing the correct form, leading to a lower likelihood of injury. Smart clothing could also be used to help people improve their posture.

And the potential applications for the research even go beyond helping humans, Wan Shou, a postdoc at CSAIL and a corresponding author on the study, explained.

"Imagine robots that are no longer tactilely blind, and that have ‘skins’ that can provide tactile sensing just like we have as humans," wrote Wan Shou. "Clothing with high-resolution tactile sensing opens up a lot of exciting new application areas for researchers to explore in the years to come."

The new research from MIT isn't the first example of smart clothing or textiles, though it is perhaps the most impressive example of clothing that can detect exact movements.

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