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Analyzing movement—by the clothes we wear

Features | January 11, 2014 | By:

What if a person’s heart rate, respiration and body mechanics could be monitored during various activities without being observed in person or via video feeds? What if that data could be collected and evaluated remotely?

Dr. Tom Martin, co-director of the Electronic Textiles Lab at Virginia Tech, is building new smart textile applications based on technology he previously developed at the lab for that purpose. Since 2001 Martin has been working on clothing items with computer networks woven into the fabric that can sense the motions of the wearer, classify the person’s activity and monitor physiological measurements related to the activity.

Limitations of the existing technology include the necessity of a special lab to recreate the environment and entering existing data specific to the wearer before the activities can be classified. The project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is aimed at automatically classifying the wearer’s activity in a variety of environments. “The new ways of classifying activities will mean the garment doesn’t have to be calibrated to the individual,” Martin says. “If you put the garment on and it fits you, it should automatically classify your activities.”

Martin is working on the project with Dr. Lucy Dunne, who teaches apparel studies and design at the University of Minnesota. While Martin works on the classifications scenes, Dunne is developing garments that people will actually wear. “The commercial version is fairly expensive and it’s a tight-fitting cat suit, which most people don’t want to wear,” Martin says. “What we’re trying to do with our project is see how accurately we can classify activities using a loose fitting garment, and [do so] relatively inexpensively.”

“Though this technology isn’t currently being developed for the military, I could see it being used for that at some point,” Martin says. “It would be particularly useful during training, when you want to determine how fatigued a Soldier is during specific training activities.”

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