Have you ever felt nauseous reading a book in the back seat of a car? Did you ever wake up from a deep sleep feeling disoriented? Momentary incidents like these happen when the sensory systems that track the body’s orientation in space become confused.

Sports apparel and equipment manufacturer Under Armour released its E39 shirt that incorporates the Zephyr BioHarness. During the NFL combines, college football players wore the shirts during various physical tests. The shirts delivered physiological data not only to NFL scouts, but to fans watching the event on television.
A condition like motion sickness presents a significant challenge to astronauts in space. Because human sensory systems use the pull of gravity to help determine orientation, astronauts onboard the International Space Station tend to experience a period of confusion before their bodies can adapt to the new circumstances, causing everything from mild disorientation to severe vomiting. NASA has explored various means for preventing motion sickness in space, including a range of drug treatments. Many effective drugs, however, cause undesirable side effects such as drowsiness.

William Toscano, a research scientist at Ames Research Center, and his NASA colleague, Patricia Cowings, developed a different approach. Utilizing biofeedback training methods, they can teach astronauts, military pilots, and others susceptible to motion sickness to self-regulate their physiological responses and suppress unpleasant symptoms. The NASA-patented method has been shown to yield benefits for 85% of those who undergo the training, including 65% who are able to suppress motion sickness symptoms entirely.

In order to gather data for their research, Toscano and Cowings needed a practical solution for monitoring the vital signs of test subjects. Zephyr Technology of Annapolis, MD, had the device the NASA researchers were looking for. Zephyr’s BioHarness is a narrow fabric band worn around the upper torso that can provide physiological status monitoring for people in any condition or environment. NASA partnered with Zephyr to implement the device in studies of motion sickness, tracking vital signs in strenuous conditions in order to understand the phenomenon.

Zephyr’s consumer device, the HxM, monitors heart rate, speed, and distance for everyday fitness training.
The BioHarness is now a market-leading technology. Through its smart fabric sensors, the BioHarness measures heart rate and heart rate variability, provides a heart electrocardiogram, and monitors breathing, skin temperature, motion, and posture. The device can either store this data for later retrieval or transmit it wirelessly to be displayed and analyzed by Zephyr’s OmniSense software.

Working with the U.S. Special Forces, Zephyr tailored its system to determine the fitness of soldiers both in training and on the battlefield, and provides sensors for first responders. The BioHarness continuously transmits data to the rescue vehicle and field hospital so that when the injured soldier arrives, doctors know the patient’s medical status.

Teams in every major professional sport use the BioHarness to support and monitor the effectiveness of training regimens. The data delivered by the system helps trainers recognize when an athlete might be suffering from dehydration or excessive fatigue, or whether the athlete is at risk for heat stroke — a condition that can result in death during training.

Visit http://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2011/cg_5.html  for more information.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the April, 2014 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from this issue here.

Read more articles from the archives here.