Move over smart watches, smart clothing may be on the way

We’ve heard of smart phones and smart watches, but what about smart clothing? The innovative research at UBC-Okanagan that could change the way we track our exercise

There are smart watches and Fitbits, but could there soon be smart clothing?

Researchers at UBC Okanagan have developed a microscopic sensor that can be embedded into clothing to track daily movement.

“They can have these in their clothes. When they move, this can track the motion of the body,” engineering professor Mina Hoorfar said.

Like fitness trackers, the sensor embedded clothing would monitor things like heart rate, calorie loss and distance.

Hoorfar said the embedded microscopic sensor is able to recognize local motion through the stretching of the woven yarns, which are treated with graphene nanoplatelets that can read the body’s activity.

“It’s like a gauge sensor,” Hoorfar said. “It’s conductivity so as I stretch it, the conductivity changes, so I get a voltage signal.

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“And based on that I know that you are stretching, your muscle is stretching.”

The technology uses a phenomenon called piezo-resistivity, an electromechanical response of a material when it is under strain.

The tiny sensors can detect human movements can be used for heart rate monitoring and temperature control.

The data is wirelessly collected and transferred onto an electronic device, which then allows you to analyze your performance.

“You went up, you went down, this muscle worked because this one doesn’t . . . you need to work on this muscle more,” Hoorfar said.

“This is something that you need to work on, your breathing, so all of these things can be interpreted later on.”

The sensor could either be permanently manufactured into clothing or simply stuck on with an adhesive.

“So if you have clothing right now, and you don’t want to buy a new one, you can just a stick it on there,” Hoorfar said.

As for when we can expect to see the sensor on the market, that remains to be seen as several more steps are needed.

“So right now, as you see, I call it the ugly phase; they are not beautiful, they are not at the commercialized stage,” Hoorfar said.

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“We really want to have an industry partner to help us take this viable product to the next level, to make it beautiful, to look at the customer, the stakeholders, who is going to use this, what kind of shape will it have.”

Hoorfar said the sensor is low-cost and is washable.