Smart clothing that interacts with its wearer’s urban environment is being developed by researchers in the UK.
The technology could allow the wearers themselves to become mobile sensors, improving pollution and traffic monitoring within cities, and helping to coordinate evacuations during major incidents or disasters.
The wearable sensors and electronics could also allow wearers to receive ultra-personalised entertainment, healthcare and shopping services as they travel through a city or building.
The project, which is being led by Prof Steve Beeby in the Department of Electronics and Computer Science at Southampton University, will develop the low-energy sensors and artificial intelligence needed to allow people’s clothing to communicate with smart city network systems.
“Most of the sensors that are used in smart cities are fixed, on lampposts for example, and there has been some work to put them on vehicles such as buses, but we are looking to put them on people, in something they can just put on and wear,” said Beeby.
The technology will offer a better distribution of sensors throughout a smart city, and could allow researchers to influence the density of information they receive, by offering incentives for wearers to visit particular areas, for example.
“It provides a flexible, moveable input to the smart city, which isn’t possible with the existing fixed sensor network,” said Beeby.
The research builds on another EPSRC-funded project the team is involved in, which is developing the technology to place electronics, including microprocessors, microcontrollers and logic circuits, into textile yarns. These yarns can then be woven into wearable fabrics.
The researchers are now planning to incorporate MEMs-style sensors alongside the electronics in these yarns, to allow them to detect pollution levels, for example.
The team will also be investigating the use of energy-harvesting technologies to power the sensors and electronics. These include piezoelectric films and ferroelectret materials, or thin-film polymer foams that generate electricity when compressed. “So for example if you were to put these in an insole, they would not only be very comfortable, but they would also generate a pretty significant amount of energy,” said Beeby.
The researchers are working with microprocessor designer ARM, as well as Mayflower Complete Lighting Control, NquiringMinds, and Smart Garment People, as part of the project.