The clothes you wear aren’t smart – cotton and synthetic yarn blends lack any kind of sensors. But scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have another type of material in mind.
The MIT researchers used a uniquely designed plastic yarn to create a knitted textile, called 3DKnITS, which they interspersed with pressure sensors. In their experiments, they used this material to make shoes and mats. They also paired it with a hardware and software system (including a machine learning component) that measured and interpreted incoming data from the pressure sensor and used it to predict a person’s movements. Their design will be described at the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society conference.
Smart textiles capable of detecting the movements of users could be useful in the field of health, for example to monitor gait or movements after an injury. Athletes could put them on to receive feedback on their moves, or they could be used to create a better video game interface.
During their tests, the researchers connected the textile to a Minecraft video game, using it as a controller to move around the virtual world. It could detect if the user wanted to move left or right depending on which foot they were standing on as well as if they wanted to jump, walk or run.
They also used the mats as part of a yoga practice, so they could see how well it detected poses like eagle, tree, or warrior, depending on how much pressure was distributed. he detected on the textile surface.
For the fabric, a pressure sensor is active at each point of intersection of two threads. A wireless circuit scans and measures the force applied to each sensor. The pressure input is displayed as a heat map on a connected computer screen, and the image of it is fed to a deep learning system, which has been trained to use the heat map to predict posture, pose or movement. After training, the researchers claim that the system is able to classify physical activities like walking, running and push-ups with 99.6% accuracy. It is also capable of nailing seven yoga poses with 98.7% accuracy.
The team says it can also turn these textiles into socks, sleeves, and more. They could also create custom fits by 3D scanning or 3D printing parts of the human body, then steaming or heating the textile into the desired shape. In another creative effort, the team turned the textile into a sort of magic carpet, which arranges music that changes soundscapes based on a dancer’s steps.