At Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology), researchers have developed a way of integrating optic fibres into clothing and using this technology to detect a person’s heart rate. The polymer fibres are highly flexible, keeping the integrated clothing still soft and comfortable. A prototype hat using the new fibre optics was developed so that the tips of the fibres faced toward the skin.
By shining light onto the skin and measuring minute changes in the reflected light, the researchers were able to measure people’s heart rate with impressive accuracy.
The technology can potentially help detect the change in skin due to a developing pressure sore, helping to avoid it without the complexity of current solutions. In the future, the researchers will be trying to detect parameters such as oxygenation and metabolic content of blood near the surface of the skin.
The fibres can handle a wash and are quite rugged, so may end up being eventually used in patient garbs for in-hospital use. One day, perhaps, even everyday clothing will sport smart sensors and fibre optics.
Some details about the novel fibre optics, according to the study abstract in Journal of the Royal Society Interface: "Polymer optical fibres (POFs) are melt-spun continuously and characterised optically and mechanically before being embroidered. The resulting sensor shows flexibility when embroidered into a moisture-wicking fabric, and withstands disinfection with hospital-type laundry cycles. Additionally, the new sensor textile shows a lower static coefficient of friction (COF) than conventionally used bedsheets in both dry and sweaty conditions versus a skin model".