MIT research team develops smart textile fiber that stores and analyzes data

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MIT research team develops smart textile fiber that stores and analyzes data

Several researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have designed a fibre with digital capabilities using an artificial neural network. It will be able to detect, store, analyze and deduce activity while sewn onto a garment, such as a shirt. It could be used to monitor physical performance or detect disease early.

A study to develop an intelligent digital fibre

The design of this fiber was the subject of a paper published earlier this month. Lead authors include Gabriel Loke, a PhD student at MIT, and Tural Khudiyev, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT. Yoel Fink, a professor in the Departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering and a researcher in the Electronics Research Laboratory, is the third lead author of the study.

They are joined by their team: Brian Wang, Stephanie Fu, Ioannis Chatziveroglou, Syamantak Payra, Yorai Shaoul, Johnny Fung and Itamar Chinn, all students at MIT; Wei Yan, also a postdoctoral fellow at MIT; John Joannopoulos, a professor of physics and director of the MIT Institute for Solid State Nanotechnologies; Pin-Wen Chou, a master’s student at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology; and Anna Gitelson-Kahn, an assistant professor at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Yoel Fink discusses the paper and the digital fiber designed by his team:

“This paper presents the first process for making a fabric with the ability to digitally store and process data, adding a new dimension of information content to textiles and allowing for literal programming of clothing fabrics.”

Anais Missakian, the Pevaroff-Cohn Family Endowed Chair in Textiles at RISD, also contributed to a better understanding of fabrics to design this fiber. The U.S. Army Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army Research Office, the MIT Sea Grant and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency supported the development of this research.

A digital fiber that can store and analyze data

To design it, the researchers placed hundreds of digital silicon chips into a preform that was used to create a polymer fiber. The research team controlled the flow of the polymer to design a fibre where the chips are all linked together by a continuous electrical connection over a length of several tens of metres.

This digital fibre can store data and it can be retrieved for viewing. The researchers were able to store a 767-kilobit colour short film and a music track weighing 0.48 megabytes. This data can be stored for two months without power.

As for the textile fiber itself, it is thin and flexible, and can be passed through a needle for use in sewing activities. It has been tested in fabrics and washed at least ten times without breaking. Gabriel Loke states in his comments:

“When you use this fiber on a shirt, you wouldn’t feel it at all. We wouldn’t know it was there if we weren’t told. Making a digital fiber opens up different opportunities and solves some of the problems of functional fibers.”

The possible uses of this digital fiber

The fiber harnesses an artificial neural network of 1,650 connections. They tested it on a shirt to collect 270 minutes of data related to a person’s body temperature. The data could be analysed by the fibre, which was able to determine with 96% accuracy the activities the person was doing at the time they were wearing the fibre. Gabriel Locle discusses the use of AI in the development of the fiber:

“Fabrics containing digital components can collect a lot of information from around the body over time, and this “megadata” is perfect for machine learning algorithms. This type of tissue could provide open source data in quantity and quality to extract new body patterns that we didn’t know about before.”

The researchers have thought of many uses for this fiber. With the analytical power they possess, they could be used to measure physical performance by analyzing an athlete’s heart rate or muscle activity or for early detection of certain diseases by referring to the decline in breathing rate or irregular heartbeats. They also propose to use it on a wedding dress that would store music for a wedding. In any case, all are convinced that this fiber will open the way to the creation of digital clothing.

The next step for the researchers will be to design a new chip that will act as a microcontroller and can be connected inside the fibre itself.

Translated from Une équipe de recherche du MIT développe une fibre textile intelligente qui stocke et analyse des données

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