Development of digital clothing with a wide range of applications in sports and health

UOC is leading a project to make health monitoring using radio frequency identification technology available to everyone. Smart clothes use sweat to monitor health.

Physical activity is good for health at all ages and in almost any environment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), up to five million premature deaths annually could be avoided if the world’s population were more physically active. However, excessive or inappropriate physical exercise can lead to harmful effects in some cases, which means that health should always be closely monitored.

Some technological solutions for monitoring various physiological and biochemical indicators such as heart rate, nutrition and water level have become widespread in recent years. However, the use of many sensors and wearable devices has been restricted to elite athletes, and advances in e-health have not benefited society at large.

With this in mind, a team of researchers at the Universidad Operta de Catalunya (UOC), led by Joan Melia Seguí, researcher in the Wireless Networks (WINE) group at the Interdisciplinary Internet Institute (IN3), is studying how to make health monitoring. Parameters during physical exercise within everyone’s reach. The project focuses on water and perspiration analysis.

The research project, called HydraSport, has received approval in a call from the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sports for research projects in science and technology applied to physical activity beneficial to health and sports medicine, and will be funded by the European Funds for the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan.

Smart fabrics and sweat sensors

Regular exercise is essential for preventing and managing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. According to the World Health Organization, it also contributes to reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, easing cognitive decline, improving memory and promoting brain health. However, according to the organization, one in four adults in the world and four in five adolescents do not get enough physical exercise.

In some cases, such as the elderly, those with illnesses, or those who live in environments with adverse climates (such as very hot places), physical exercise is more likely to lead to negative health effects such as dehydration.”

Joan Melia Segui, Researcher, Wireless Networking Group (WINE), Interdisciplinary Internet Institute (IN3)

For this reason, monitoring of basic parameters such as water must be made available to all in order to improve the conditions for making physical exercise a universal health-benefitting activity.

For the researchers, this means integrating low-cost, flexible technology without batteries or complex circuits into everyday clothing, thus enabling health measurement in a non-assistive, non-invasive way. The team at UOC is studying the possibility of integrating Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies into smart fabrics that use perspiration to collect information about the wearer’s hydration.

“We need to meet many requirements in order to monitor hydration, in a non-invasive way that can be incorporated into everyday clothing,” explained Melia Segui, a professor in the School of Computer Science, Multimedia and Communication. “First, we need a body fluid that is rich in biomarkers related to hydration, that is produced in sufficient quantities during physical exercise, and that comes into contact with clothing easily. Sweat potentially contains a great deal of important information, although it has traditionally been an untapped resource in monitoring Non-invasive health.

Another requirement is to find a technology that allows data to be collected, but goes unnoticed by the person using it. The researcher added, “We need a technology that is small in size and has a very low cost that enables measurement by means of a sensor and transmission of data through technologies that are compatible with the Internet of Things.” “In its various versions, RFID is a technology that can operate without a battery, the tags are powered by radio frequency waves from the reading equipment, and their design allows basic measurements to be taken at a very low production cost.”

Towards healthy physical exercise for all

“The primary objective is to promote physical exercise beneficial to health, following the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the third goal of sustainable development of the United Nations (ensuring a healthy life and promoting well-being for all at all ages), by making smart clothing that allows basic monitoring of health parameters such as water available to all,” he concluded. Researcher at the University of Oklahoma.

The HydraSport project aims to make positive contributions to both scientific and industrial fields and to society as a whole. Developments like the one the University of British Columbia researchers hope could improve early diagnosis and prevention regimes that focus on the health of people who exercise. Because it is a low-cost solution that can be easily integrated into existing medical systems, the barrier to adoption would be low for the industry, and it could be a way to make breakthroughs in digital health available to society at large.

The project also seeks to demonstrate the feasibility of integrating ultra-low-cost passive sensors with RFID technology into textile materials, which will enable the industry to develop digital apparel with a wide range of applications in sports and health prevention. “During the project we will look at suitable fabrics and technological designs,” added Joan Melia Segui. “We hope the findings open the way for future collaborations with other researchers and industry.”


Open University of Catalonia

Development of digital clothing with a wide range of applications in sports and health

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