Smart Clothing

CS 147 Assignment 8
Submitted by Jee Park
Thursday, 11:30 AM Section
TA: Sarah Martin


"Smart Clothing" is made from fabrics that are wireless and washable that integrate computing fibers and materials into the integrity of the fabrics.

Georgia Tech is one university among several, which include MIT and University of California at Davis, that conduct research in the area of "intelligent fabric".

Georgia Tech Wearable Motherboard

Georgia Tech developed a "Wearable Motherboard" (GTWM), which was initially intended for use in combat conditions. Georgia Tech's research was funded by the US Department of Navy. The Sensate Liner for Combat Casualty Care uses optical fibers to detect bullet wounds and special sensors that interconnects in order to monitor vital signs during combat conditions. Medical sensing devices that are attached to the body plug into the computerized shirt, creating a flexible motherboard. The GTWM is woven so that plastic optical fibers and other special threads are integrated into structure of the fabric. There are no discontinuities in the GTWM. The GTWM is one piece of fabric, without seams. Because the sensors are detachable from the GTWM, they can be placed at any location, and is therefore adjustable for different bodies. Furthermore, the types of sensors used can be varied depending on the wearer's needs. Therefore, it can be customized for each user. For example, a firefighter could have a sensor that monitors oxygen or hazardous gas levels. Other sensors monitor respiration rate and body temperature or can collect voice data through a microphone.

Figure 1: the third generation GTWM
  Figure 2: the GTWM worn underneath combat fatigues

Before the GTWM was adjusted and improved for commercial use, the information was transmitted via a "personal status monitor" that connects to the shirt and is usually worn at the hip. It also served as a personal computer so that wearers can access the internet, listen to music, or check e-mail. Now, the personal status monitor has been integrated into the shirt itself. The system is also completely wireless. (See Figures 5 and 6for the "Smart Shirt".)

The GTWM identifies the exact location of the physical problem or injury and transmits the information in seconds. This helps to determine who needs immediate attention within the first hour of combat, which is often the most critical during battle.

Other Uses for the GTWM

Although the GTWM is intended for use in combat and is likely to be used by the military, police, and firemen, it is more widely applicable. Since the GTWM provides a framework for incorporating sensors, monitors, and information processing devices, it could be used for any purpose that requires around the clock monitoring of vital statistics. For example, the elderly and others with fragile health conditions could also benefit from this technology. The GTWM could enhance communication between the wearer and his or her health professional. For example, the GTWM could be outfitted for patients who return home from surgery, so that their doctors could monitor their vital information. This kind of monitoring would also be helpful for patients in rural areas who are far from medical professionals. Often people in geographical areas with sparse medical facilities feel uncomfortable about leaving the hospital since they are no longer under the care of medical professionals. This uncertainty and insecurity can often hinder their recovery. Wearing the GTWM and knowing that their health is continuing to be monitored remotely may allay their fears and help them recovery more quickly and successfully.

The GTWM could also be used to learn more about mentally ill patients. These patients need constant monitoring in order to get a better understanding of how tier vital signs are related to their behavior patterns. This information could help doctors determine the effects of the treatment mentally ill patients receive and could help doctors decide how and if the treatment should be adjusted.

Astronauts also need constant monitoring of their vital statistics, and the GTWM could help people on the earth understand the effects of the environment in outer space on the body.

Additionally, the "Smart Shirt" can be tailored to fit anyone, like any other shirt. For example, a baby wearing a GTWM could have his or her vital signs monitored. This would be especially helpful since some babies are prone to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which often strikes unexpectedly during sleep. (See Figure 3)

Figure 3: An infant wears a tailored "Smart Shirt"

Athletes could also use the monitoring system during practice and competitions to track and enhance performance.

Moreover, healthy people could wear the GTWM during exercise in order to make sure that they are exercising within safe parameters, and the GTWM encourages individuals to take an active role in diagnosis and maintenance. The other side of this issue is the possibility of promoting hypochondria. As in the case of medical students who first learn about symptoms of diseases, the users of a health-monitoring device such as the GTWM, may become paranoid about their health with the added information.

The Value Added by GTWM

The GTWM is a breakthrough technology because it is the first unobtrusive and noninvasive way of monitoring vital statistics. Furthermore, the GTWM is worn comfortably underneath clothing, like an undershirt, and can be sized to fit a variety of people. Therefore, it is flexible and customizable to the wearer. Another interesting feature of the GTWM is that it is washable.

The GTWM could be classified as a wearable computing device. Once the wearer has plugged the sensors into the GTWM, he or she proceeds as if wearing any other item of clothing. It is intended to be as unobtrusive as possible, and no direct manipulation of the device is required once the initial setup is completed. It is unlike other wearable computers in that it is nearly invisible since it is worn underneath normal clothing.

Steve Mann, a wearable computing pioneer, suggests that "Smart" clothing is a form of existential media. "Existential media defines new forms of social interaction through enhanced abilities for self expression and self actualization, as well as through self-determination."

Availability and Success of GTWM

The GTWM is currently being manufactured for commercial use under the name "Smart Shirt". Sensatex/Lifelink is manufacturing the "Smart Shirt", which should be available early next year. The company plans to develop relationships with firefighter groups, doctors and others in order to create "wearable motherboards," that meet their different needs

The commercial applications for the "Smart Shirt" are: (See Figure 4)

Figure 4: Scenarios of Use for the "Smart Shirt"

Figure 5: the "Smart Shirt" Sensory Architecture

Figure 6: Detail of the "Smart Shirt"

Limitations and Issues of the "Smart Shirt"

Some of the wireless technology needed to support the monitoring capabilities of the "Smart Shirt" is not completely reliable. The "Smart Shirt" system uses Bluetooth and WLAN. Both of these technologies are in their formative stages and it will take some time before they become dependable and widespread. (See Figure 7)

Figure 7: "Smart Shirt" Platform Implementation

Additionally, the technology seems to hold the greatest promise for medical monitoring. However, the "Smart Shirt" at this stage of development only detects and alerts medical professionals of irregularities in patients' vital statistics or emergency situations. It does not yet respond to dangerous health conditions. Therefore, it will not be helpful to patients if they do face complications after surgery and they are far away from medical care, since the technology cannot yet fix or address these problems independently, without the presence of a physician. Future research in this area of responsiveness is ongoing.

As is the case for any monitoring system, the privacy of the wearer could be compromised. For example, a GTWM that is outfitted with a microphone or GPS may compromise the wearer's privacy. Additionally, the data that is transferred by the "Smart Shirt" could be used for purposes other than the intended, and could be viewed by unauthorized people. Databases about individuals could also be linked to provide more information than is necessary for this application. All of these possibilities could compromise the privacy of the individual.

Furthermore, Dr. Molly Coyle, founder of Health Technology Center in San Francisco, a non-profit organization that researches the role of technology in improving health, believes that monitoring for healthy people may exacerbate hypochondria.

In my research on "Smart Clothing", there was never any mention of the cost to manufacture or keep up the system that it requires. This suggests that the cost may be somewhat prohibitive for widespread use. Furthermore, since its most noble applications seem to be in the area of medical monitoring and telemedicine in particular, where the likelihood that patients are already spending a lot of money on medical care, it is uncertain whether this population will be able to afford this kind of technology.

In the case of telemedicine and the aforementioned scenario of use with patients recovering from surgery, there is also the possibility that patients may be released from hospitals prematurely because doctors may depend on this technology to monitor them.

Other Interesting "Smart Clothing"

There are also other "Smart Clothes" that are aimed at consumer use. For example, Philips, a British consumer electronics manufacturer, has developed new fabrics, which are blended with conductive materials that are powered by removable 9V batteries. These fabrics have been tested in wet conditions and have proven resilient and safe for wearers. One prototype that Philips has developed is a child's "bugsuit" that integrates a GPS system and a digit camera woven into the fabric with an electronic game panel on the sleeve. This allows parents to monitor the child's location and actions. Another Philips product is a live-saving ski jacket that has a built in thermometer, GPS, and proximity sensor. The thermometer monitors the skier's body temperature and heats the fabric if it detects a drastic fall in the body temperature. The GPS locates the skier, and the proximity sensor tells the skier if other skiers are nearby. Philips suggests that wearable computers will be widely used by the end of the next decade.


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