Scientists are developing ‘smart underwear’ that can vibrate or send a text message to warn wearers if their incontinence protection is leaking.
Researchers at Brunel and Manchester universities are working on the technology, which uses embedded circuits made of conductive thread to detect liquid and alert the user via a signalling device.
The vibrating version of the underwear is currently half way through clinical trials at the Bristol Urological Centre following a successful pilot. So far it has only been designed for women, who make up two thirds of incontinence sufferers.
‘The two big problems for people who use incontinence pads are pad leakage, which is very embarrassing and creates a lot of work, and worry that they might smell and won’t know themselves,’ project leader Eleanor van den Heuvel, research fellow at Brunel, told The Engineer.
‘What we found was that it’s very hard to get urine to smell on the incontinence pad, but that doesn’t stop people worrying about it. So we’re also developing a colour-change odour detector that tells you if there’s a low level of ammonia.’
The team developed a Bluetooth-based text-message alert version of the underwear at the pilot stage but the response from focus groups was that it was unnecessary.
However, van den Heuvel said it wouldn’t be hard to revive that aspect of the technology or to develop a system for sending messages to a central station at a care home.
The technology will be one of the topics at this week’s conference, Incontinence: The Engineering Challenge VIII, being held at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers on 7–8 December.
The research is part of Brunel’s Tackling Ageing Continence through Theory, Tools and Technology (TACT3), a £1.6m project funded by the cross-research council New Dynamics of Ageing (NDA) programme.