By Adam Zewe
Using a new manufacturing process, MIT researchers have produced smart textiles that conform snugly to the body so they can sense the posture and movements of the wearer.
By incorporating a special type of plastic yarn and using heat to melt it slightly – a process called thermoforming – the researchers were able to dramatically improve the accuracy of pressure sensors woven into multi-layer knitted textiles, which they call 3DKnITS.
They used this process to create a “smart” shoe and mat, then built a hardware and software system to measure and interpret data from pressure sensors in real time. The machine learning system predicted the yoga movements and poses performed by an individual standing on the smart textile mat with approximately 99% accuracy.
Their manufacturing process, which takes advantage of digital knitting technology, allows for rapid prototyping and can be easily adapted for large-scale manufacturing, says Irmandy Wicaksono, research assistant at the MIT Media Lab and lead author of a paper presenting 3DKnITS.
The technique could have many applications, especially in health care and rehabilitation. For example, it could be used to produce smart shoes that track the gait of someone learning to walk again after an injury, or socks that monitor the pressure on a diabetic patient’s foot to prevent ulcers from forming. .
“With digital knitting, you have this freedom to design your own patterns and also embed sensors into the structure itself, so it becomes seamless and comfortable, and you can develop it depending on the shape of your body,” says Wicaksono.