Smart Clothing

There’s no need to don uncomfortable smartwatches or chest straps to monitor your heart if your comfy shirt can do a better job. That’s the idea behind “smart clothing” developed by a Rice University lab, which employed its conductive nanotube thread to weave functionality into regular apparel.

The Brown School of Engineering lab of chemical and biomolecular engineer Matteo Pasquali reported in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters that it sewed nanotube fibers into athletic wear to monitor the heart rate and take a continual electrocardiogram (EKG) of the wearer. The fibers are just as conductive as metal wires, but washable, comfortable and far less likely to break when a body is in motion, according to the researchers. On the whole, the shirt they enhanced was better at gathering data than a standard chest-strap monitor taking live measurements during experiments. When matched with commercial medical electrode monitors, the carbon nanotube shirt gave slightly better EKGs.

Rice University graduate student Lauren Taylor shows a shirt with carbon nanotube thread that provides constant monitoring of the wearer’s heart

The shirt has to be snug against the chest,” said Rice graduate student Lauren Taylor, lead author of the study. “In future studies, we will focus on using denser patches of carbon nanotube threads so there’s more surface area to contact the skin.”