A ‘smart’ textile that transforms garments into active motion sensors has been developed by Cambridge Consultants. The wearable technology uses fibre-optic sensors and can be used in almost any type of clothing; making it suitable for fitness and sports coaching, for physiotherapy, or for filming and gaming applications.
Until now, smart fabrics have had multiple electronic sensors, causing them to be bulky and sensitive to moisture. The XelfieX material, however, uses lightweight and durable fibre-optic thread to act as the sensor, along with a small electronics pack which clips on to the fibre − in a pocket, for example – and communicates with a smartphone.
The new technology could prove popular for athletes wanting to improve their performance, for example to help perfect a tennis serve, golf swing or ski technique. It could also be used as part of physiotherapy to help patients recover after injury, surgery or neurological problems. The material would also be ideal for motion capture used in gaming, film making and virtual reality applications, thanks to its ability to make multiple accurate angle measurements.
‘Our aim was to create wearables that people actually want to wear,’ said XelfleX inventor Martin Brock, of Cambridge Consultants. ‘With XelfleX, the garment itself is the sensor and it allows you to create smart clothing that is low-cost, durable, useful and attractive to wear.’
The way XelfieX works is that when a pulse of light is transmitted down an optical fibre, a well-defined amount of light is scattered continuously along its length. Bending the fibre results in increased scattering and reflection; this can then be measured.
By integrating the fibre into a close-fitting garment, the movement of a joint can change the amount of bending at a defined sensor point in the fibre. Up to 10 sensors are possible along each fibre – with the initial light pulse sent by an LED in the electronics pack. Algorithms then turn the results from the sensors into guidance that users can understand; providing feedback on their posture and movement, and coaching them on how to improve.
It’s the latest example of how sensor technology can assist athletes in improving their sporting technique.