The smart stitching features a conductive core that is a hybrid metal-polymer resistive material intended for stretch and pressure sensing. After being embedded into a garment's seam, it is activated at low voltages, with the resistance fluctuating as body movement affects the tension in the material.
In the team’s study, a microcontroller was used to connect the seams and a computer measured the changes in voltage signal. According to the Bath researchers, the system could be particularly useful for motion tracking where specific movements are not picked up by traditional, wrist-worn fitness devices.
"There are lots of potential applications for conductive yarn in any activity where you want to identify and improve the quality of a person's movement,” said PhD student Olivia Ruston, who presented the work at the ACM Designing Interactive Systems conference. “This could be very helpful in physiotherapy, rehabilitation, and sports performance.
While embedding sensors in garments is not a new concept, the Bath project is claimed to be the first where researchers have refined the location and concentration of conductive seams. The researchers found that the placement of the seams and the number of seams that are added can play a key role in the design of a motion-tracking garment.
"A lot of people are experimenting with e-textiles, but we don't have a coherent understanding between technologists and fashion designers, and we need to link these groups up so we can come up with the best ideas for embedding tech into clothing,” said Ruston.
Professor Mike Fraser, co-author and head of Computer Science at Bath University, added: "Our work provides implications for sensing-driven clothing design. As opportunities for novel clothing functionality emerge, we believe intelligent seam placement will play a key role in influencing design and manufacturing processes. Ultimately, this could influence what is considered fashionable."