Romper suits with sensors could help prevent cot deaths

Breathing sensors built into romper suits could help prevent sudden cot deaths, claim researchers in Germany.

Developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM in Berlin, the sensor system contains a stretchable printed circuit board (PCB) that fits to the contours of the body and can be manufactured using routine industrial processes.  

To demonstrate a possible application of the stretchable PCB, scientists fitted it with two commercially available sensors and ironed the whole system onto a romper suit, allowing them to monitor breathing in the chest and stomach areas.

The circuit board is made of polyurethane (PU), a material more commonly used for coating surfaces, as a sealant, or as a cushioning material.

‘The circuit board we have developed can be manufactured using routine industrial processes, meaning a high throughput and, consequently, good cost-efficiency,’ said Manuel Seckel, a scientist at the IZM.

‘Furthermore, components can be positioned on it just as precisely as on a standard board thanks to the stability of the stretchable substrate during processing. This stands in contrast to textile-based electronics, where one can expect an offset of up to 5mm over a half-metre area.’

According to a statement, the researchers had to overcome a number of challenges to achieve the high level of accuracy required, including how to handle and process the polyurethane.

‘As with stretch fabric, PU PCBs are hard to machine-manufacture because they tend to change shape. To counter this, we developed a support system on which we place the PU boards and machine process them before removing the support once more,’ said Seckel. The method is currently being tested by various industrial partners.

The flexible-circuit board technology could also be applied in other areas such as in vehicles to provide subtle lighting in the roof lining of cars or in pressure bandages applied to burn wounds. Here, PU plasters equipped with integrated sensors would help nurses find the optimal placement for the bandage.