New sensor for smart textiles survives even in washing machine

Scientists from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. John A. Paulson and the Wyss Institute for Biological Engineering have developed an ultra-sensitive and reliable strain sensor. It can be embedded in textiles and soft robotic systems. The research is published in the journal Nature.

“Modern soft strain gauges are sensitive but very fragile,” explains Oluwaseun Araromi, the first author of the article. “The problem is that high-sensitivity sensors are usually very fragile and rugged sensors are not very sensitive.”

In the end, the researchers came up with a suitable design.

Unlike today’s highly sensitive sensors, which are based on exotic materials such as silicon or gold nanowires, the new sensor does not require special manufacturing techniques or even a clean room. It can be made from any conductive material.

The researchers tested the stability of the sensor by cutting it with a scalpel, hitting it with a hammer, running over it with a car, and throwing it into the washing machine ten times. The sensor emerged from each test unharmed.

To demonstrate its sensitivity, the researchers embedded the sensor into a tissue sleeve on the arm and asked the participant to make various hand gestures. The sensors detected changes in the subject’s forearm muscles through the tissue, and the algorithm’s machine learning successfully classified all movements.

The sleeve that was used to test the new sensor can be used in everything from virtual reality simulations and sportswear to the clinical diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.