Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in collaboration with scientists from Sweden, developed a new type of textile fiber. This product can be used in the creation of intelligent clothing, which detects when it stretches or compresses according to the individual’s movements. It then provides immediate tactile feedback in the form of pressure, stretch or vibration as required.
OmniFibers is the name of these smart fibers, whose operation is based on a multilayer fabric. The fabric has a channel where a fluid is stored, which can be water or compressed air. The system can release or generate pressure thanks to a fluid system which allows the fibers to act like an artificial muscle. The fabric also contains stretch sensors that can detect and measure the degree of stretching of the fibers, such characteristics allow them to be manipulated with standard commercial machines.
Such a development could be used in garments that help train singers and athletes to better control their breathing. The fabric could also have medical applications and help people recover from illness or surgery. In this sense, the fabric could mitigate breathing difficulties for patients, making it easier for them to recover their breathing patterns.
Some of the key features of this type of fiber are its extremely narrow size and the economy of the polyester-like material. This gives OmniFibers the ability to generate textile structures of any type. In addition, the response time when in use and the variety of forces it can generate allow for a fast feedback system.
Ozgun Kilic Afsar, a research collaborator, emphasized that the shortcoming of most artificial muscle fibers is their thermal activation. This can lead to overheating and injury to the user’s skin. In addition, these fibers tend to generate low power at the time of use and the training processes for the knowledge and familiarization of the fabric is exhausting.
The material was initially tested by making a prototype of underwear that could be worn by singers, with the aim of monitoring and later reproducing the movement of the muscles used. “Singing is particularly close to home, as my mother is an opera singer, she is a soprano,” said Afsar.
At the time of the vocal performance by singer Kelsey Cotton, the researchers recorded motion data from the fabric sensors in the garment. This data was used to observe, analyze and record movement patterns, capturing the physiology of a singer. In this way, it was sought to be able to transfer them to the body of a candidate singer.
Similar to this application, the fabric can also make inroads into the world of professional sports, helping athletes both in their entry and in optimizing their training. On the other hand, Afsar hopes to implement this technology in patients with respiratory diseases such as Covid-19, or an alternative treatment for sleep apnea are also sectors of opportunity for OmniFibers.
“Actually, the physiology of breathing is quite complex, we are not aware of the muscles used and what is involved in the physiology of breathing,” explains Afsar. This assertion is the key to the operation of OmniFibers whose design with several separate modules gives it the flexibility to monitor different muscle groups. All this while the user inhales and exhales, and then seeks to reproduce the movements remotely on other subjects.
Afsar plans to continue working on the development of OmniFibers, the inclusion of control electronics and a smaller compressed air supply for a discrete design. On the other hand, the development of an optimal manufacturing system for the production of longer filaments is one of the goals to follow.
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