- Rice University researchers create a “smart” shirt that employs interwoven carbon nanotube fibers to collect data on heart activity.
- The technique is based on carbon nanotube fibers, which were initially developed in 2013 by Rice University
- In future studies, researchers will focus on using denser patches of carbon nanotube threads so there’s more surface area to contact the skin.
Making ‘Smart shirts’ using Carbon nanotube thread
We’ve seen numerous instances of smart clothing packed with technology to monitor various elements of a wearer’s physical wellness throughout the years, but recently, we’ve seen how extremely tiny, conductive fibers might provide for a more seamless experience. Rice University researchers used this idea to create a “smart” shirt that employs interwoven carbon nanotube fibers to maintain constant electrical contact with the skin, allowing for continuous data collection on heart activity.
The technique is based on carbon nanotube fibers, which were initially developed in 2013 by Rice University researchers and were as strong as carbon fiber, as flexible as a textile thread, and as good at conducting heat and electricity like a metal wire. These filaments, which are around 22 microns wide and made up of tens of billions of carbon nanotubes, have subsequently been investigated by scientists for use in cochlear implants, flexible antennas, and mending damaged electrical circuits in the heart.
In terms of possible applications, smart clothing has always been in the mix, but the team has had to jump through a few hoops to get there. Because the original fibers are so tiny, they cannot be utilized with a conventional sewing machine, instead, the team bundled the filaments together using rope-making equipment. These bundles were then weaved together to form a fiber about the size of a normal thread.
The fibers could then be machine-sewn into the fabric, which the researchers did in a zig-zag pattern to ensure they didn’t break when stretched. When woven into a sports jersey, the fibers harness their metal-like conductivity to function as integrated electrodes and signal transmission lines, bringing up some intriguing prospective applications.
‘Smart shirt’ outperforms traditional chest-strap monitor
The team conducted trials in which it compared the capacity of their smart shirt to capture live heart rate data to that of a traditional chest-strap monitor and discovered that the shirt performed better. They also utilized the threads as electrodes for electrocardiograms and discovered that the shirt performed similarly to commercially available electrode monitors.
“The shirt has to be snug against the chest,” says Rice graduate student Lauren Taylor, lead author of the study. “In future studies, we will focus on using denser patches of carbon nanotube threads so there’s more surface area to contact the skin.”
The smart fabric, which is machine-washable and can be attached to Bluetooth transmitters to broadcast data to smartphones or hooked up to a pocket-friendly Holter monitor that monitors heart activity, has a slew of possible applications, according to the researchers. Other options include incorporating antennas or LED lights, as well as making changes to monitor other vital indicators such as breathing rate.