In the near future, you may get up in the morning, put on a "smart" T-shirt, and automatically have your health monitored. When it's dirty, the shirt gets washed or dry-cleaned. Researchers from the University of South Australia have developed smart garments with tiny embedded electronics that can monitor your heart or respiratory function wirelessly. The garments, when placed on electronic hangers, enable monitored data to be downloaded in a heartbeat to a computer in your wardrobe, and then they are recharged and ready for wearing.
Professor Bruce Thomas, researcher and director of UniSAÃs Wearable Computer Laboratory, explains that for continuous monitoring, "you can take off one garment and put on another smart garment so, instead of having just one heart monitor, you can have a wardrobe of them."
The wardrobe has a touchscreen on the outside and conductive metal bands spanning the hanging rail inside, with wires connecting it to a computer in the base of the wardrobe. When electronic hangers, each with their own ID and metal connection, are placed on the rail, it detects the hangers and smart garments incorporating the conductive material and integrated electronics. Through this connection, the computer identifies that hanger 123 has coat 45 on it, which has stored heart monitoring data that needs to be downloaded, and the hanger needs to be recharged.
Garments with communication technology only and a wireless connection enable users to access heart monitoring through a Bluetooth or Zigbee network, eliminating the need for expensive heart monitoring equipment to be placed in each garment. Future garments could be used for monitoring at home, for outpatient care, and for people with dementia, who can be monitored with minimal intervention.