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Washable, weavable sensors

September 1st, 2019 / By: / Swatches

UBC doctoral student Hossein Montazerian takes a look at a tiny sensor embedded into a fiber. The stretchable sensor—woven into fabric—can detect human movement and has the potential to alert individuals about their health, including when to hydrate or when to rest. Photo: UBC.

Smart textiles continue to advance into more sophisticated and wearable options. Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan’s School of Engineering are developing a low-cost, yarn-like sensor that can be woven into fabric and composite materials. 

The sensor is microscopic, yet is able to recognize motion as the yarn stretches, due to being treated with graphene nanoplatelets that can read the body’s activity. The technology involves a shrinking process known as piezo-resistivity, which creates an electromechanical response when material is under strain. 

In research conducted in partnership with the university’s Materials and Manufacturing Research Institute, the sensor was woven into spandex material and then wrapped into a stretchable silicone sheath that protects the conductive layer against harsh conditions. This process enables the sensors to be integrated into apparel that is easily washed and worn.

The sensors show promise in detecting human movement, and could be used to gauge a number of functions including monitoring heart rate or temperature control. The sensors also have the potential to be used in industry; for example, to monitor deformations in fiber-reinforced composite fabrics used in automotive, aerospace and marine manufacturing. For more information, visit www.ok.ubc.ca.