Researchers at Rice University have made a smart shirt with carbon nanotubes: through constant electrical contact with the skin, data can be collected about the work of the heart.
The new technology is based on carbon nanotube fibers: they are as strong as carbon fiber and flexible as a textile thread, and they also conduct heat and electricity. The filaments are 22 microns wide and are made from tens of billions of carbon nanotubes.
The authors of the new work have long been interested in the development of the field of smart clothes, but the fibers they wanted to use for this were so thin that they could not be used with a conventional sewing machine. So the team used a rope-making device to tie all the threads together. These bundles were then woven into a fiber that looked like a regular thread.
This conductive thread can now be sewn into regular fabric with a sewing machine. Moreover, the authors did zigzags while sewing so that the fiber did not break when stretched. Now the threads sewn onto the shirt have a metallic conduction like built-in electrodes and signal wires.
During the experiment, the team tested how the new smart shirt records real-time heart rate data. As a result, the recording was successful. The authors also used filaments as electrodes for an electrocardiogram and found that the shirt provided performance comparable to commercially available electrode monitors.
The authors see many potential applications for their technology, in particular in the field of continuous health monitoring.