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Flexible textile sensors for medical use

Projects | November 1, 2017 | By:

Empa scientists worked in collaboration with the research institute CSEM, Zurich University Hospital and the Swiss Paraplegic Center in Nottwil to create a textile sensor that can be produced industrially for hospital use and other potential applications. Photo: Empa.

Researchers at Empa, the materials research institution in Dübendorf, Switzerland, have produced soft optic fibers for sensors that can be embedded in textiles as a thread. Worn next to the skin, the sensors can, for example, monitor whether a hospital patient is developing bedsores.

Previously, polymer optic fibers, used in communication technology, weren’t supple enough for textile use; they can break if bent. The research team used a melting technique to create a flexible version that can be sewn into textiles. Tests showed that the sensor can hold up in a disinfection wash cycle, making it appropriate for use in a medical setting.

The scientists also tested the textile sensor in a hat. They were able to show that it can be used on any part of the body to measure heart rates. Typically, the pulse is measured on thin parts of the body. But this sensor works by emitting and measuring light on the same side of the body, so it only needs to be placed on an individual’s skin in order to work. In this case, the researchers were able to test heart rate on the subjects’ foreheads.

The research team is studying other applications for the soft sensors, including monitoring oxygen saturation or metabolic rates. In addition to medical uses, the textile sensors could be employed in sports and outdoor apparel. For more information, visit

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