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Smart textiles. Electronic fibres that can sense fabric deformation

Researchers at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed electronic fibres that can collect a wealth of information about our bodies by measuring fabric deformation when embedded in textiles. The technology is based on transmission line theory and gives hope for a wide number of applications, for example in healthcare and robotics. “Imagine clothing or hospital bed sheets capable of monitoring your breathing and other vital movements, or AI-powered textiles that allow robots to interact more safely and intuitively with humans,” says Andreas Leber, who developed the soft transmission lines in collaboration with Professor Fabien Sorin. By incorporating concepts from reflectometry, Sorin and Leber were able to create soft fibre-shaped sensors which can simultaneously detect different kinds of fabric deformation such as stretch, pressure and torque. “Our technology works much like a radar, but it sends out electrical pulses instead of electromagnetic waves,” explains Leber. “The system measures the time between when a signal is sent out and when it is received, and uses that to determine the exact location, type and intensity of deformation.” The next step plans to make the technology more portable by reducing the space required by the peripheral electronics.

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