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Researchers Develop 'Smart Clothes' to Monitor Heart and Respiratory Function

There is a lot more than style to consider these days when building a wardrobe. Stain-proof, wrinkle-proof, and now, researchers have developed clothing that can monitor your heart or respiratory function wirelessly.

A team of students at the University of South Australia has created garments embedded with tiny wireless electronics that allows these smart clothes to communicate their data with electronic hangers. That information is then downloaded to a computer in the closet as the clothes recharge.

But what if your heart skips a beat while you're wearing an old-fashioned shirt? No worries, says team leader Bruce Thomas, director of the Wearable Computer Laboratory and professor of information technology, engineering and the environment at the University of South Australia.

"For continuous monitoring, you can take off one garment and put on another smart garment so, instead of having just one heart monitor, you can have a wardrobe of them," Thomas said.

These smart clothes are not the first of their kind, but they are the first ones to develop a management technology that works.

"The wardrobe has a touch screen on the outside and conductive metal bands spanning the hanging rail inside, with wires connecting it to a computer in the base of the wardrobe," Thomas said. "When we place electronic hangers, each with their own ID and metal connection, on the rail, it detects the hangers and smart garments incorporating the conductive material and integrated electronics."

Because of this advancement, expensive heart monitoring equipment would not needed for every single piece of clothing. This system may also have applications far beyond heart monitoring, with the capability to monitor everything from scheduling dry cleaning to calling for help in a medical emergency and downloading music.

"The garments enable us to monitor people's vital statistics and activity levels – when they get up, walk around, make breakfast and dinner, or sleep - but more importantly, we can determine if they are missing meals, fall over or stop moving," said Thomas. "The technology can distinguish between normal and abnormal events and alert family or emergency services or, for people who live in retirement villages, alert local medical staff."