Using our washing machine to clean and charge up our clothes Design by Lyndsay Williams
The future of clothing and wearable computer technology will include clothes with invisible inbuilt medical, sports and wellbeing sensors embedded into the fabric.
Computer rendering of future sensor - sensing shirt button
We may want smart sensing to be embedded in our clothing including shoes, that can measure biomedical parameters , e.g. motion, body temperature and transmit this data via radio to the mobile phone for healthcare applications.
Health applications also include fall detection for people living alone but nobody wants cumbersome pendants as used as present.
The clothes must also be washable (up to 90C) and preferably have no battery, as batteries do not cope with the temperature range in a hot wash.
We also want our clothes to light up for decoration and for safety, we can also have them emit relaxing signals if it detects we are stressed. We might want them to talk to our smartphones for 24/7 medical care.
We want tiny sensors no larger than a shirt button so as to be unobtrusive. Where can we get these from?
There is a established area of the consumer market in Tyre Pressure Monitoring Systems TPMS which can provide a solution to sensors for clothing. From Nov 2012 all new UK cars will require TPMS. This allows more safety, re braking, longer life tyres and better fuel economy. There will be millions of these low costs sensors so we can re purpose them. These sensing semiconductors provide pressure measurement, acceleration in 2 dimensions, temperature, microcontroller, complete with a 315MHz radio transmitter. Here are some examples, from Texas Instruments
There are other manufacturers of TPMS sensors and they cost less than £5 for one off.
These TPMS sensors can be re purposed for clothing sensors, and are washable up to 150C.
However there is still the problem of batteries, changing them and making them waterproof. It is preferred to use power harvesting rather than Lithium cells. All clothes need to be washed, we use a washing machine. The spin cycle provides a large amount of vibration (particularly if load unbalanced) and energy, some via centrifugal force for power harvesting, here is some research on using the motion of a car wheel to charge up the TPMS. Piezo sensors are a possibility as here. There is also the possibility of using the varying electromagnetic forces inside the drum from the washer motor. This system needs further research to see how much power can be derived from a normal spin cycle e.g. 4 mins at 900 RPM. An Aerogel SuperCapacitor can be charged in this period of time. These capacitors operate up to 70C.
Image of Bosch Washer from John Lewis
The TPMS semiconductors can have a shock survival of up to 4000G.
This prototype design will enable our clothes to have built in sensors, lights and just a normal wash cycle with spin to charge up the clothes every few days.
Rendering of Girton Labs HexSensor size 10 x 10 mm
There are other advantages to embedding sensors into our clothes, an ID tag, with radio transmitter so we don't loose them, and when clothes put in washing machine the care tag data is transmitted to washer for correct wash, at the correct temperature so no more mixing of whites and coloured. The clothes can transmit a signal when due for a wash or record in a database the last time clothes were one. Some people do not like to be seen in the same outfit twice so a date log of wearing the clothes sent to mobile phone with help the fashion conscious!
Additional areas to research, using the TPMS pressure sensors to monitor pressure points on the body, power requirements etc.
We can maybe also use these tiny sensors to track our glasses which can get lost...
Girton Labs in conjunction with Northumbria University had already built proof of concept designs for early onset epilepsy detection using accelerometers, and work is in progress with Smart Sensing Bandages for healthcare.
From Wikipedia:Permethrin is a common synthetic chemical, widely used as an insecticide, acaricide, and insect repellent. It is not known to rapidly harm most mammals or birds, but is dangerously toxic to cats and fish. It is used in popular flea killer sold by large UK Supermarkets.It is probably ok if used with dogs as per instructions but not with cats.From The Feline Advisory Bureau UK: (year unknown) Permethrin has been reported to be the most common cause of poisoning of cats in the USA and the most common toxicological cause of death of cats reported to the UK Veterinary Poisons Information Service. Video here, warning slightly distressing but educational. This month there has been a large outbreak of fleas in UK re the weather, this BBC report covers it.The carpet in our house and pet bedding was treated as per instructions with a popular yellow flea powder. I read the small print twice before applying, but no mention of danger to cats. Unfortunately one of the cats, Dot, (15 months old) became lethargic, not eating or drinking for several days. We took her to the vet with the flea powder. Vet examined her and noted swollen mouth and bleeding and other malaise and treated her. Vet said poison was "highly likely" due to Permethrin but cat would probably be "ok".
I then checked other flea killers available in the UK and noticed they also contained Permethrin. I then tried to contact the manufacturer of the flea powder via their web site but no phone number, only email or postal and a response within 28 working days, i.e. up to 6 weeks! As the matter was urgent, I contacted them via public means via Twitter and they are now responding, suppling me with a claim form to fill in. It would be useful if these Permethrin based flea powders were labelled as toxic to cats. I have asked the manufacturer to do this. The cat is now recovering. The flea powder however did not kill the fleas so I used a traditional lamp and sticky paper to sort them out as here, did the job. Contact Lyndsay Williams, Cambridge, UK firstname.lastname@example.org Tel +44 (0) 7970 101578