Forget gossipy neighbors, peeping toms, or shady repairmen. In the future, you may be handing out non-disclosure agreements to your underwear drawer. Researchers from Taiwan and U.C. San Diego have devised a way to print electrochemical sensors directly onto fabric, which means that those tighty whities you’re wearing could someday monitor your vitals. (No word on whether they’ll text-message your friends, too.)
Integrating biosensors into clothing isn’t as easy as it sounds. Attention has to be paid, for instance, to the impact fabric morphology and continuous deformation (through body movement) have on sensor performance.
“Compared to wearable entertainment systems,” according to a paper published in the March 2010 issue Analyst, “on-body healthcare monitoring devices must be highly robust and durable in connection with the wearer’s daily activity.”
Screen-printing technology was used to create sensors that can be distorted without affecting performance.
To prove that a wearable, non-invasive healthcare monitor wasn’t just the the stuff of sci-fi, the scientists used screen-printing technology to fabricate thick-film amperometric sensors that can be stretched, flexed, and crushed without impeding their ability to detect changes in the wearer’s body chemistry.
And their guinea pig of choice? Men’s briefs, for their direct exposure to skin and potential for direct sweat monitoring. “Clothing-integrated electrochemical sensors hold considerable promise for future healthcare, military, or sport applications,” the researchers say, noting that the technology can be honed to monitor alcohol consumption in drivers or stress levels in soldiers and athletes.
The days when you could count on your clothes to maintain some modicum of discretion, it would seem, are numbered.