The shirt you’re wearing right now helps keep you comfortable, protects you from the environment, and may be fashionable. But what if it could listen to and record your heartbeat, your breath, and your every movement? Researchers from MIT and the Rhode Island School of Design have recently developed a wearable fabric that works like a microphone, and can listen to the physiological processes of your body, among other things. Their findings were published last month in the journal Nature.
When we hear a sound, this is caused by sound waves that travel through the environment and eventually enter our ear canal. Then, through processes in the middle and inner ear, those sound waves are transmitted to our brain via electrical signals from the auditory nerve. In short, sounds waves are converted into electrical activity that then allow us to perceive sound. The researchers utilized this concept when they created their “hearing” fabric.
The fabric is made of piezoelectric fibers that are super sensitive to small vibrations in the environment, such as sound waves. In the same way that sound waves pass through our ear canal, they also pass through the fabrics that we wear, and as such, the wearable piezoelectric fibers can pick up the sound waves and convert them into electrical signals. As the senior author of the study, Dr. Yoel Finks said, “our fibers or fabrics capture, in some ways, the soundtrack of our lives. Every time your heart beats, every time you take a breath […] every time blood flows, there’s sound. The fabrics capture all of that.”
While this fabric has just recently been developed, the utilization of this technology could be immense. Dr. Wei Yan, the lead author of the study said, “This fabric can imperceptibly interface with the human skin, enabling the wearers to monitor their heart and respiratory condition in a comfortable, continuous, real-time, and long-term manner.” Indeed, wearable technology is changing the face of healthcare with many physicians sayingthat wearable technology can be helpful in monitoring their patients and helping to prevent disease. With the ability to constantly listen to the heart and other physiological processes, this wearable microphone can provide important information about the wearers’ health and well-being.