A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore has developed a smartphone-powered suit capable of providing athletes with physiological data about their posture, running gait, and body temperature while they are out on the field.
Led by Assistant Professor John Ho, a team from the NUS Institute for Health Innovation and Technology, designed the pattern of the web-like threads to relay electromagnetic signals from a nearby smartphone to sensors on the body as far as a meter away, providing power and data connectivity across the suit.
The team took about two years to develop the technology. They describe their findings in "Wireless Battery-Free Body Sensor Networks Using Near-Field-Enabled Clothing," published in Nature Communications, where they prove it is possible to relay a smartphone's near-field communication (NFC) signal to different locations on the body with specially designed inductive patterns.
"Our smart suit works with most modern smartphones, which act as both the source of power as well as the display to view the sensor data," says Ho, who is also in the NUS Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "The creation of a smart suit that can be powered using built-in smartphone wireless technology is a major breakthrough."
The smart suit is made up of web-like circuitry with inductive patterns acting as hubs at strategic locations. Custom-made sensors placed at those hubs can transmit data back to a smartphone and are powered by the smartphone's NFC chip, removing the need for batteries. This reduces a significant amount of weight while enabling the collection of data from multiple areas on the body.
The current prototype of the suit can support up to six sensors per smartphone while collecting information such as spinal posture, running gait, and body temperature simultaneously. Among these functions, the ability to measure spinal position across multiple nodes is most significant as spinal posture is an integral part of developing a solid athletic stance, which is previously overlooked due to the difficulty in collecting real time data.
Good athletic stance can help reduce the risk of injury and optimize performance as poor posture is biomechanically inefficient. The smart suit or sensor network can constantly monitor an athlete's spinal posture to provide real-time data with minimal impact on performance as the network is wireless and lightweight.
Other potential applications would include clinical diagnosis of spinal disorder and round-the-clock health monitoring. Researchers and doctors can access the data transmitted to the smartphone via a custom-built application which can also alert the user of potential issues such as overheating during physical activity.
Moving forward, Ho and his team plan to develop new sensors to increase the range of data collected and hope to work with professional athletes to help them monitor their physiological signals during training.
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