You might not have to wear a smartwatch or a dedicated monitor to track your heart rate in the future — you might only need the clothes you’re wearing. Scientists have developed a fiber optic material that is flexible enough to be woven into clothing, enabling sensors anywhere your outfit meets bare skin. And yes, they’re washing machine friendly. You could theoretically slip on an everyday shirt or cap to track your BPM, and you could toss it in with the rest of your laundry at the end of the day.
The fiber is crafted by melting and spinning two polymers, one that transmits the light-based data and another that serves as a coating. That’s no mean feat, the team tells Popular Science — you can’t usually melt and spin optical fibers, and this technique allows for much higher production volumes.
Researchers are currently interested in catering to hospitals, which could use sensor-equipped clothing to monitor vitals without risking the sores that come from wearing traditional sensors. That, in turn, could minimize the chances that patients get further illnesses. However, the researchers hope to expand their flexible fiber tech to track oxygen, pressure and other crucial data. And it’s reasonable to expect that this technology will eventually go beyond the medical field. Don’t be surprised if one day, you’ll buy a fitness apparel that tracks your stats without any obvious signs that there’s technology inside.
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