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North Carolina State University
17.01.2023

Embroidery as Low-Cost Solution for Making Wearable Electronics

Embroidering power-generating yarns onto fabric allowed researchers to embed a self-powered, numerical touch-pad and movement sensors into clothing. The technique offers a low-cost, scalable potential method for making wearable devices.

“Our technique uses embroidery, which is pretty simple – you can stitch our yarns directly on the fabric,” said the study’s lead author Rong Yin, assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science at North Carolina State University. “During fabric production, you don’t need to consider anything about the wearable devices. You can integrate the power-generating yarns after the clothing item has been made.”

Embroidering power-generating yarns onto fabric allowed researchers to embed a self-powered, numerical touch-pad and movement sensors into clothing. The technique offers a low-cost, scalable potential method for making wearable devices.

“Our technique uses embroidery, which is pretty simple – you can stitch our yarns directly on the fabric,” said the study’s lead author Rong Yin, assistant professor of textile engineering, chemistry and science at North Carolina State University. “During fabric production, you don’t need to consider anything about the wearable devices. You can integrate the power-generating yarns after the clothing item has been made.”

In the study published in Nano Energy, researchers tested multiple designs for power-generating yarns. To make them durable enough to withstand the tension and bending of the embroidery stitching process, they ultimately used five commercially available copper wires, which had a thin polyurethane coating, together. Then, they stitched them onto cotton fabric with another material called PTFE.

“This is a low-cost method for making wearable electronics using commercially available products,” Yin said. “The electrical properties of our prototypes were comparable to other designs that relied on the same power generation mechanism.”

The researchers relied on a method of generating electricity called the “triboelectric effect,” which involves harnessing electrons exchanged by two different materials, like static electricity. They found the PTFE fabric had the best performance in terms of voltage and current when in contact with the polyurethane-coated copper wires, as compared to other types of fabric that they tested, including cotton and silk. They also tested coating the embroidery samples in plasma to increase the effect.

“In our design, you have two layers – one is your conductive, polyurethane-coated copper wires, and the other is PTFE, and they have a gap between them,” Yin said. “When the two non-conductive materials come into contact with each other, one material will lose some electrons, and some will get some electrons. When you link them together, there will be a current.”
Researchers tested their yarns as motion sensors by embroidering them with the PTFE fabric on denim. They placed the embroidery patches on the palm, under the arm, at the elbow and at the knee to track electrical signals generated as a person moves. They also attached fabric with their embroidery on the insole of a shoe to test its use as a pedometer, finding their electrical signals varied depending on whether the person was walking, running or jumping.

Lastly, they tested their yarns in a textile-based numeric keypad on the arm, which they made by embroidering numbers on a piece of cotton fabric, and attaching them to a piece of PTFE fabric. Depending on the number that the person pushed on the keypad, they saw different electrical signals generated for each number.

“You can embroider our yarns onto clothes, and when you move, it generates an electrical signal, and those signals can be used as a sensor,” Yin said. “When we put the embroidery in a shoe, if you are running, it generates a higher voltage than if you were just walking. When we stitched numbers onto fabric, and press them, it generates a different voltage for each number. It could be used as an interface.”

Since textile products will inevitably be washed, they tested the durability of their embroidery design in a series of washing and rubbing tests. After hand washing and rinsing the embroidery with detergent, and drying it in an oven, they found no difference or a slight increase in voltage. For the prototype coated in plasma, they found weakened but still superior performance compared with the original sample. After an abrasion test, they found that there was no significant change in electrical output performance of their designs after 10,000 rubbing cycles.

In future work, they plan to integrate their sensors with other devices to add more functions.
“The next step is to integrate these sensors into a wearable system,” Yin said.

The study, “Flexible, durable and washable triboelectric yarn and embroidery for self-powered sensing and human-machine interaction,” was published online in Nano Energy. Co-authors included Yu Chen, Erdong Chen, Zihao Wang, Yali Ling, Rosie Fisher, Mengjiao Li, Jacob Hart, Weilei Mu, Wei Gao, Xiaoming Tao and Bao Yang. Funding was provided by North Carolina State University through the NC State Faculty Research & Professional Development Fund and the NC State Summer REU program.

 

Source:

North Carolina State University, Rong Yin, Laura Oleniacz

A shirt that monitors breathing. Bild EMPA
28.12.2022

Wearables for healthcare: sensors to wear

Stylish sensors to wear 
With sensors that measure health parameters and can be worn on the body, we do let technology get very close to us. A collaboration between Empa and designer Laura Deschl, sponsored by the Textile and Design Alliance (TaDA) of Eastern Switzerland, shows that medical monitoring of respiratory activity, for example, can also be very stylish – as a shirt.
 
With sensors that measure health parameters and can be worn on the body, we do let technology get very close to us. A collaboration between Empa and designer Laura Deschl, sponsored by the Textile and Design Alliance (TaDA) of Eastern Switzerland, shows that medical monitoring of respiratory activity, for example, can also be very stylish – as a shirt.

Stylish sensors to wear 
With sensors that measure health parameters and can be worn on the body, we do let technology get very close to us. A collaboration between Empa and designer Laura Deschl, sponsored by the Textile and Design Alliance (TaDA) of Eastern Switzerland, shows that medical monitoring of respiratory activity, for example, can also be very stylish – as a shirt.
 
With sensors that measure health parameters and can be worn on the body, we do let technology get very close to us. A collaboration between Empa and designer Laura Deschl, sponsored by the Textile and Design Alliance (TaDA) of Eastern Switzerland, shows that medical monitoring of respiratory activity, for example, can also be very stylish – as a shirt.

The desire for a healthy lifestyle has triggered a trend towards self-tracking. Vital signs should be available at all times, for example to consistently measure training effects. At the same time, among the continuously growing group of people over 65, the desire to maintain performance into old age is stronger than ever. Preventive, health-maintaining measures must be monitored if they are to achieve the desired results. The search for measurement systems that reliably determine the corresponding health parameters is in full swing. In addition to the leisure sector, medicine needs suitable and reliable measurement systems that enable efficient and effective care for an increasing number of people in hospital and at home. After all, the increase in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems or respiratory diseases is putting a strain on the healthcare system.

Researchers led by Simon Annaheim from Empa's Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles laboratory in St. Gallen are therefore developing sensors for monitoring health status, for example for a diagnostic belt based on flexible sensors with electrically conductive or light-conducting fibers. However, other, less technical properties can be decisive for the acceptance of continuous medical monitoring by patients. For example, the sensors must be comfortable to wear and easy to handle – and ideally also look good.

This aspect is addressed by a cooperation between the Textile and Design Alliance, or TaDA for short, in eastern Switzerland and Empa. The project showed how textile sensors can be integrated into garments. In addition to technical reliability and a high level of comfort, another focus was on the design of the garments. The interdisciplinary TaDA designer Laura Deschl worked electrically conductive fibers into a shirt that change their resistance depending on how much they are stretched. This allows the shirt to monitor how much the subjects' chest and abdomen rise and fall while they breathe, allowing conclusions to be drawn about breathing activity. Continuous monitoring of respiratory activity is of particular interest for patients during the recovery phase after surgery and for patients who are being treated with painkillers. Such a shirt could also be helpful for patients with breathing problems such as sleep apnea or asthma. Moreover, Deschl embroidered electrically conductive fibers from Empa into the shirt, which are needed to connect to the measuring device and were visually integrated into the shirt's design pattern.

The Textile and Design Alliance is a pilot program of the cultural promotion of the cantons of Appenzell Ausserrhoden, St.Gallen and Thurgau to promote cooperation between creative artists from all over the world and the textile industry. Through international calls for proposals, cultural workers from all disciplines are invited to spend three months working in the textile industry in eastern Switzerland. The TaDA network comprises 13 cooperation partners – textile companies, cultural, research and educational institutions – and thus offers the creative artists direct access to highly specialized know-how and technical means of production in order to work, research and experiment on their textile projects on site. This artistic creativity is in turn made available to the partners as innovative potential.

(c) Fraunhofer IKTS
02.08.2022

Fraunhofer technology: High-tech vest monitors lung function

Patients with severe respiratory or lung diseases require intensive treatment and their lung function needs to be monitored on a continuous basis. As part of the Pneumo.Vest project, Fraunhofer researchers have developed a technology whereby noises in the lungs are recorded using a textile vest with integrated acoustic sensors. The signals are then converted and displayed visually using software. In this way, patients outside of intensive care units can still be monitored continuously. The technology increases the options for diagnosis and improves the patient’s quality of life.

For over 200 years, the stethoscope has been a standard tool for doctors and, as such, is a symbol of the medical profession. In television hospital dramas, doctors are seen rushing through the halls with a stethoscope around their neck. Experienced doctors do indeed use them to listen very accurately to heartbeats and the lungs and, as a result, to diagnose illnesses.

Patients with severe respiratory or lung diseases require intensive treatment and their lung function needs to be monitored on a continuous basis. As part of the Pneumo.Vest project, Fraunhofer researchers have developed a technology whereby noises in the lungs are recorded using a textile vest with integrated acoustic sensors. The signals are then converted and displayed visually using software. In this way, patients outside of intensive care units can still be monitored continuously. The technology increases the options for diagnosis and improves the patient’s quality of life.

For over 200 years, the stethoscope has been a standard tool for doctors and, as such, is a symbol of the medical profession. In television hospital dramas, doctors are seen rushing through the halls with a stethoscope around their neck. Experienced doctors do indeed use them to listen very accurately to heartbeats and the lungs and, as a result, to diagnose illnesses.

Now, the stethoscope is getting some help. As part of the Pneumo.Vest project, researchers of the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS at the Berlin office have developed a textile vest with integrated acoustic sensors, presenting a high-performance addition to the traditional stethoscope. Piezoceramic acoustic sensors have been incorporated into the front and back of the vest to register any noise produced by the lungs in the thorax, no matter how small. A software program records the signals and electronically amplifies them, while the lungs are depicted visually on a display. As the software knows the position of each individual sensor, it can attribute the data to its precise location. This produces a detailed acoustic and optical picture of the ventilation situation of all parts of the lungs. Here is what makes it so special: As the system collects and stores the data permanently, examinations can take place at any given time and in the absence of hospital staff. Pneumo.Vest also indicates the status of the lungs over a period of time, for example over the previous 24 hours. Needless to say, traditional auscultation can also be carried out directly on the patients. However, instead of carrying out auscultation manually at different points with a stethoscope, a number of sensors are used simultaneously.

“Pneumo.Vest is not looking to make the stethoscope redundant and does not replace the skills of experienced pneumologists. However, auscultation or even CT scans of the lungs only ever present a snapshot at the time of the examination. Our technology provides added value because it allows for the lungs to be monitored continuously in the same way as a long-term ECG, even if the patient is not attached to machines in the ICU but has instead been admitted to the general ward,” explains Ralf Schallert, project manager at Fraunhofer IKTS.

Machine learning algorithms aid with diagnosis
Alongside the acoustic sensors, the software is at the core of the vest. It is responsible for storing, depicting and analyzing the data. It can be used by the doctor to view the acoustic events in specific individual areas of the lungs on the display. The use of algorithms in digital signal processing enables a targeted evaluation of acoustic signals. This means it is possible, for example, to filter out heartbeats or to amplify characteristic frequency ranges, making lung sounds, such as rustling or wheezing, much easier to hear.

On top of this, the researchers at Fraunhofer IKTS are developing machine learning algorithms. In the future, these will be able to structure and classify complex ambient noises in the thorax. Then, the pneumologist will carry out the final assessment and diagnosis.

Discharge from the ICU
Patients can also benefit from the digital sensor alternative. When wearing the vest, they can recover without requiring constant observation from medical staff. They can transfer to the general ward and possibly even be sent home and move about more or less freely. Despite this, the lungs are monitored continuously, and any sudden deterioration can be reported to medical personnel straight away.

The first tests with staff at the University Clinic for Anesthesiology and Intensive Therapy at the University of Magdeburg have shown that the concept is successful in practice. “The feedback from doctors was overwhelmingly positive. The combination of acoustic sensors, visualization and machine learning algorithms will be able to reliably distinguish a range of different lung sounds,” explains Schallert. Dr. Alexander Uhrig from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin is also pleased with the technology. The specialist in infectiology and pneumology at the renowned Charité hospital was one of those who initiated the idea: “Pneumo.Vest addresses exactly what we need. It serves as an instrument that expands our diagnostic options, relieves the burden on our hospital staff and makes hospital stays more pleasant for patients.”

The technology was initially designed for respiratory patients, but it also works well for people in care facilities and for use in sleep laboratories. It can also be used to train young doctors in auscultation.

Increased need for clinical-grade wearables
With Pneumo.Vest, the researchers at Fraunhofer IKTS have developed a product that is cut out for the increasingly strained situation at hospitals. In Germany, 385,000 patients with respiratory or lung diseases require inpatient treatment every year. Over 60 percent are connected to a ventilator for more than 24 hours. This figure does not account for the current increase in respiratory patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of increasing life expectancy, the medical industry also expects the number of older patients with breathing problems to increase. With the help of technology from Fraunhofer IKTS, the burden on hospitals and, in particular, costly ICUs can be relieved as their beds will no longer be occupied for quite as long.

It should be added that the market for such clinical-grade wearables is growing rapidly. These are compact medical devices that can be worn directly on the body to measure vital signs such as heartbeat, blood oxygen saturation, respiratory rate or skin temperature. As a medical device that can be used flexibly, Pneumo.Vest fits in perfectly with this development. But do not worry: Doctors will still be using the beloved stethoscope in the future.

Fraunhofer “M³ Infekt” cluster project
Pneumo.Vest is just one part of the extensive M³ Infekt cluster project. Its objective is to develop monitoring systems for the decentralized monitoring of patients. The current basis of the project is the treatment of COVID-19 patients. With the SARS-CoV2 virus, it is common for even mild cases to suddenly deteriorate significantly. By continuously monitoring vital signs, any deterioration in condition can be quickly identified and prompt measures for treatment can be taken.

M3 Infekt can also be used for a number of other symptoms and scenarios. The systems have been designed to be modular and multimodal so that biosignals such as heart rate, ECG, oxygen saturation, or respiratory rate and volume can be measured, depending on the patient and illness.

A total of ten Fraunhofer institutes are working on the cluster project under the leadership of the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS in Dresden. Klinikum Magdeburg, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the University Hospitals of Erlangen and Dresden are involved as clinical partners.

Source:

Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technology and Systems IKTS

Fraunhofer IZM: Jessica Smarsch (c) Jessica Smarsch
01.12.2020

Fraunhofer IZM: High-Tech Fashion – art and science for the clothes of tomorrow

For most people, the word "fashion" evokes thoughts of cuts, colors and patterns - but why not of live evaluations of vital functions or training sessions for rehabilitation patients? Up to now, products of the fashion industry have been largely analogous. The project Re-FREAM, however, was created to design smart clothes in the digital area. Here, researchers and artists work side by side, developing innovative and sustainable ideas and implementation options for the fashion industry, while simultaneously providing impulses for user-oriented synergies between textiles and technology.

For most people, the word "fashion" evokes thoughts of cuts, colors and patterns - but why not of live evaluations of vital functions or training sessions for rehabilitation patients? Up to now, products of the fashion industry have been largely analogous. The project Re-FREAM, however, was created to design smart clothes in the digital area. Here, researchers and artists work side by side, developing innovative and sustainable ideas and implementation options for the fashion industry, while simultaneously providing impulses for user-oriented synergies between textiles and technology.

The writer Maxim Gorki summed up the connection between two social spheres that were long believed to be irreconcilable: "Just as science is the intellect of the world, art is its soul". In the project Re-FREAM they are connected because fashion is not limited to the decision of the external, it is directly afflicted with sociological, technological and ecological world views. It is less and less sufficient to present only the beautiful, because the dark sides of the fashion industry must also be uncovered and countered with sustainable production cycles and fair working conditions. It is precisely this rethinking and redesigning of processes, production methods, but also of functionality and traditions in the world of fashion that is part of the Re-FREAM project.

The aim is to create an interaction between fashion, design, science and urban manufacturing in order to combine creative visions with sustainable technological solutions. In teams, artists and scientists developed projects together and then presented their innovative aesthetics at the virtual Ars Electronica Festival 2020.

The cooperation with Fraunhofer IZM's scientists opens up entirely new technological possibilities for artists: Microelectronics not only serves as a fashion accessory but is also brings new functions to clothing. With the help of integration technologies, clothing can be integrated into networks and textile-integrated sensor technology can be used, which opens up perspectives of wearable applications in the field of e-health.

One difficulty that Fraunhofer researchers are facing is the electronic contact points between electronics and textiles, because these must be manufacturable on an industrial scale and function reliably under typical textile mechanical stress and washing without any loss of performance. The electronic modules are a further challenge. At Fraunhofer IZM, the electronic components are miniaturized to such an extent that they do not stand out in the garment. The connecting conductor tracks are finally laminated or embroidered onto the fabrics.

Each sub-project in Re-FREAM is a unique joint effort, a fact that reflects the versatility of the cooperation partners. The Italian designer Giulia Tomasello, for example, wants to reveal taboos around female health in her project "Alma" and realize a monitoring of the vaginal flora. The team consisting of designers, an anthropologist and Fraunhofer researchers is developing underwear with an integrated pH sensor, designed to enable a non-invasive diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis and fungal diseases in everyday life and prevent serious inflammation.

In the gusset of the underwear, the reusable biosensor collects data and transmits them to a module measuring approximately 1 cm². Thanks to a modular design, the microcontroller can be easily removed from the textiles. The textile sensor, too, can be removed from the underwear. In addition to the technological solution, aesthetic requirements are another main focus. Other potential applications would be the monitoring of abnormal uterine bleeding as well as menopause. "Through close cooperation with the artists, we have gained very special insights into the user's perspective, and they in turn into that of application-oriented technologies. We have always challenged each other and have now found a solution that combines medical technology, wearables and a circular production method to empower women," says Max Marwede, who provided technical support for "Alma" at Fraunhofer IZM.

In the "Connextyle" project around designer and product developer Jessica Smarsch, the team also focuses on developing user-oriented garments: The tops, which are equipped with textile printed circuit boards and laminated EMG sensors, measure muscle activity and thus optimize rehabilitation processes for patients. An app provides visual feedback from the collected data, generates reports on the healing process and makes it easier for therapists to adapt the measures ideally.

Soft Robotics are the key point in the "Lovewear" project, because here inclusive underwear was developed, which is intended to help people with physical limitations in particular to explore their own intimacy and develop a greater awareness of their own body. Through interaction with a connected pillow, which functions as an interface, compressed air inserts are activated in the lace fabric. Instead of the commonly used silicon-based materials, Soft Robotics are made of textiles and thermoplastic materials. The researchers thus avoid the long curing process of silicone-based approaches and enable faster and more cost-effective mass production with available textile machines.

Particularly challenging and at the same time fruitful is the collaboration in creating sustainable and circular production designs in fashion. Ecological principles are taken into account at the design stage, minimizing negative environmental impacts throughout the product life cycle. This includes the reliability of the component contacts, the length of time the sensors adhere to the textile, the choice of materials and the modular design for reuse of the microcontrollers. However, the teams do not create individual pieces - they want to show that the path to high-tech fashion can also be an environmentally friendly one. They also worked on circular business models that fit the sustainable mission of the projects.

Thus Fraunhofer IZM’s expertise in the fields of e-textiles and circular design represents a considerable added value in the Re-FREAM project. With further investigations on suitable conductive materials, the researchers are currently developing sensory textiles and textile-suitable interconnection technologies. They are also working on thermoplastic substrates that can be integrated into almost any textile.

Re-FREAM is part of the STARTS (Science + Technology + Arts) program, which is funded as an initiative of the European Commission within the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

Source:

Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM

The new AddiTex compound comes out of the extruder as a filament for 3D printing. © Fraunhofer UMSICHT
12.11.2019

FRAUNHOFER UMSICHT: COMPOUNDS FOR ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING, GEOTEXTILES AND WEARABLES

Whether biodegradable geotextiles, wearables from thermoplastic elastomers or functional textiles from 3D printers - the scope of plastics developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT is wide.

Insights into these projects were provided from October 16th - 23rd  in Düsseldorf: At the K, scientists presented their work on thermally and electrically conductive, biodegradable, bio-based compounds as well as compounds suitable for additive production.
 
Textile composites from the 3D printer
In the "AddiTex" project, plastics were developed that are applied to textiles in layers using 3D printing and give them functional properties. A special challenge in the development was the permanent adhesion: The printed plastic had to be both a strong bond with the textile and sufficiently flexible to be able to participate in movements and twists.

Whether biodegradable geotextiles, wearables from thermoplastic elastomers or functional textiles from 3D printers - the scope of plastics developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT is wide.

Insights into these projects were provided from October 16th - 23rd  in Düsseldorf: At the K, scientists presented their work on thermally and electrically conductive, biodegradable, bio-based compounds as well as compounds suitable for additive production.
 
Textile composites from the 3D printer
In the "AddiTex" project, plastics were developed that are applied to textiles in layers using 3D printing and give them functional properties. A special challenge in the development was the permanent adhesion: The printed plastic had to be both a strong bond with the textile and sufficiently flexible to be able to participate in movements and twists.

A flexible and flame-retardant compound was developed, which is particularly suitable for use in the field of textile sun and sound insulation, as well as a rigid compound, which is used, among other things, for reinforcing the shape of protective and functional clothing.

Geotextile filter for technical-biological bank protection
Geotextile filters for technical-biological bank protection are the focus of the "Bioshoreline" project. It stands for gradually biodegradable nonwovens, which allow a near-natural bank design of inland waterways with plants. They consist of renewable raw materials and are intended to stabilize the soil in the shore area until the plant roots have grown sufficiently and take over both filter and retention functions. The ageing and biodegradation of the fleeces begin immediately after installation, until the fleeces are gradually completely degraded.

Prototypes of the geotextile filters are currently being tested. Female scientists evaluate the plant mass formed above and below ground with and without geotextile filters as well as the influence of the soil type on plant growth and the biological degradation of the filter.

Wearables made of thermoplastic elastomers
In addition, Fraunhofer UMSICHT is developing novel, electrically conductive and flexible compounds that can be processed into thermoplastic-based bipolar plates. These plastics are highly electrically conductive, flexible, mechanically stable, gas-tight and chemically resistant and - depending on the degree of filling of electrically conductive additives - can be used in many different ways. For example, in electrochemical storage tanks (batteries), in energy converters (fuel cells), in chemical-resistant heat exchangers or as resistance heating elements.

Another possible field of application for these plastics: Wearables. These portable materials can be produced easily and cheaply with the new compounds. It is conceivable, for example, to form garments such as a vest by means of resistance heating elements. The idea behind this is called Power-to-Heat and enables the direct conversion of energy into heat.

FUNDING NOTES

"AddiTex" is funded with a grant from the State of North Rhine-Westphalia using funds from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) 2014-2020 "Investments in growth and employment". Project Management Agency: LeitmarktAgentur.NRW – Projektmanagement Jülich.

The "Bioshoreline" project (funding reference: 22000815) is funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) on the basis of a resolution of the German Bundestag.

More information:
Fraunhofer-Institute UMSICHT K 2019
Source:

Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology UMSICHT