Research Critique: Sensing Garments & Smart Textiles

Wearable Kinesthetic Systems, Alessandro Tognetti, Federico Lorussi, Mario Tesconi, Raphael Bartalesi, Giuseppe Zupone, Danilo De Rossi (2005)

Fig 1. Series of sensors found on thin track of sensing gloves

This article focuses on the development of wearable kinesthetic systems to monitor body kinematics with specific focus on two wearables: The upper limb kinesthetic garment (ULKG) and the sensing glove. The new developments seek to tackle disadvantages in existing technologies that make use of robotics or mechatronics machines to analyse human movement. Their invasiveness, complexness and safety risks along with the undesirable weight and rigid fabric of current wearable sensing systems form the need for the two wearables mentioned above. The ULKG detects the posture of wrist, elbow and shoulder and is planned to be used on post-stroke rehabilitation.

Both the ULKG and sensing glove make use of wearable conductive elastomer (CE) sensors which is made up of a silicon rubber and graphite mixture (Refer to Fig 1.). Using Lycra as the elastic fabric substrate, an adhesive mask can be used to rub the CE over the Lycra according to the shape and preferred dimensions, allowing the sensors to focus on specific joints. (Refer to the above video to understand what CE sensors are and their possible functions) 

Fig 2. A prototype recognizing upper body postures using strain sensors (a). In (b), the exact positioning of the sensors is shown.

In addition, a software package named Kinematic Sensor System (KSS) has been developed to provide a detailed graphical representation of postures recognised based on values determined by their location on the body (Refer to Fig 2.). Such a technology allows for the representation of each kind of movement possible.

Wearable Electronics and Smart Textiles: A Critical Review, Matteo Stoppa and Alessandro Chiolerio (2014)

This review focuses on different techniques and materials used to create smart textiles with the vision of making them into wearables that are integral to our everyday outfits. This involves a two-step process where smart materials are studied first before considering how they can be processed into a textile material. Smart textiles are divided into three sub-groups:

  • Passive smart textiles: only able to sense the environment, based on sensors
  • Active smart textiles: reactive sensing to stimuli from the environment, integrating an actuator function and a sensing device
  • Very Smart textiles: able to sense, react and adapt their behavior to the given circumstances

It is important to consider the functions of these different textiles as the review further discusses in detail the strengths and limitations of each technique and material such that they are best used for specific functions under certain conditions only.

Thin thermoplastic polyurethane films printed with DuPont Microcircuit Materials’ stretchable conductive inks

For example, in terms of electro-textiles, the conductive fabrics (Read more) can be used in elaborated electrical circuits and be structured to have multiple layers to accommodate electronic devices but the integration of it is seldom a uniform process. On the other hand, conductive inks (Read more) utilise inkjets which are flexible and require low effort. However, they are best suited for low viscosity materials as clogging will likely to occur with high viscosity materials.

Stretch sensors from New Zealand firm Stretchsense

Screen printed electrochemical sensors on underwear

In terms of sensors, stretch sensors are able to be in contact with skin over a large body area but may be considered invasive to the user. In contrast, using electrochemical sensors (Read more) are better for non-invasive monitoring but cannot be easily attached to the skin. The review goes on to discuss how most of the requirements to make better smart textiles are often inconsistent with each other such as how fine fibers and fabrics of low weight are inadequate for reasonable electrical conductivity. Still, hopeful examples are provided such as the hybrid fabric PETEX and the MIT CAD Embroidery technique. Both are able to minimise drawbacks allowing for textiles better suited for long term wearing and user friendly which are critical factors in fulfilling their final determinant of user acceptance.




The Virtual Embrace

The virtual embrace was definitely unlike a physical one since it did not involve any sort of physical contact but more of positioning our hands in the right place. This itself required a unique sort of mutual collaboration that created a new sensation when making contact with someone.  The process also becomes more dragged out due to the need to match the scaling and positioning, thus a longer contact is established in the virtual world even without a physical touch interestingly enough.

Research Critique: Biometrics

Neri Oxman and a group from the MIT mediated matter group recently collaborated with Christoph Bader and Dominik Kolb on a project known as ‘Wanderers: Wearables for Interplanetary Pilgrims’. With the intention of sustaining life through voyages beyond our planet,  the wearables are created to hold life sustaining elements contained within 3D printed vascular structures with internal cavities. It makes use of a technology that produces digitally manufactured wearables with multi-material 3D printing machinery.

3D printed vascular structures with internal cavities

 According to the mediated matter group, they’ve found a way to embed ‘living matter in the form of engineered bacteria within the 3D structures in order to augment the environment. living matter within these structures will ultimately transform oxygen for breathing, photons for seeing, biomass for eating, biofuels for moving and calcium for building.’

The internal cavities are infused with synthetically engineered microorganisms to make the hostile habitable and the deadly alive. Inspired by natural growth behaviour, starting as seeds, the biomimicry process of the technology simulates growth by continuously expanding and adapting its shape to the environment. The wearable is capable of generating the basic elements needed for survival through elements that photosynthesise, bio-mineralise to strengthen human bone or contain florescence to provide light in dark places.

Skip to 1:04 to watch how the growth process works

multi-material fluidic valve 3D printed using the connex 500 stratasys 3D printer

3D printed fluidics and a syringe pump. mediated matter

I found this wearable to be very fascinating due to its potential for the future, in fact, it already sounds almost straight out of science fiction itself. Yet, I do have my doubts when it comes to the idea of holding all these bacteria that can be potentially deadly, on my body. If one of the cavities breaks, it could threaten my life rather than prolong it. The form of the wearable does not seem very pragmatic either for travel so I do hope the design can be improved in this aspect.

The wearables were produced on an ‘objet500 connex3 color multi-material 3D production system’


Research Critique: Costume & Textile

Japanese techno-pop unit Perfume’s interactive dress worn during their “Spending All My Time” performance at Cannes in 2013 was a result of their collaboration with Japan’s techno-artist Daito Manabe. Manabe is a programmer whose work fuses advanced technology and artistic creativity. The concept behind many of Perfume’s performances involve mimicking androids, thus the digital patterns projected on the dress complement their performance.

Motion capturing technology on Perfume’s dresses

For this particular performance, Perfume used twitter to connect with its fans and then through open source technology, fans were able to download 3D data of the females and simple drawing programmes to create their own unique graphics.

Fans submit different graphics to be projected onto the dresses

They were invited to submit their own digital graphics which were then projected onto the dresses in sync with the rhythm of the music through motion capturing and project mapping technology, creating a fine example where technology invites the audience to be part of the performance.

Behind the scenes

“During the performance, a dynamic projection mapping system cast visuals onto the semi-translucent screens in front of the singers; motion capture allowed the position of the projections to be calibrated automatically moment by moment. The cameras filming the performance were also watched by a motion capture system, each outfitted with a marker allowing the system to track the camera’s position and orientation in space. This, Manabe says, was key for morphing seamlessly between perspectives, an effect conjured by Rhizomatiks computer vision wizard Yuya Hanai. The final video moves seamlessly between the live footage and the 3D model captured ahead of time.” – WIRED

Project mapping revealed at the exhibit “Rhizomatiks Inspired by Perfume”

Personally, aside from the fact that the performance was amazing and seemed so ahead of its time, I find this integration of technology and performance very fascinating. By blending advanced technology with pop music performances, technology does not feel out of place but rather complements and adds value to the experience to create one their is multi-sensory and highly engaging. The combination of both art and technology is full of potential and I look forward to more of such.