Intelligent textiles

Nick Morrison


Investigators of venous disorders have long lamented the inability to measure compression dosage of both graduated compression hose and more especially compression bandaging in order to assure accurate and consistent therapeutic intervention. New intelligent or smart fabrics are being developed that may well serve this purpose.

These textiles are manufactured to function as a sensor capable of monitoring such things as pressure, temperature, cardiopulmonary functions, and athletic performance, and could be used to aid in detection and treatment of diabetic, venous and decubitus ulcer.

One company, Footfalls and Heartbeats, Ltd (Auckland, NZ) has developed technology that combines mathematically determined textile structures using electrically conductive yarn to form a repeatable and sensitive sensor network…. [and] through…conductive fibre technology and micro power sources, electrical signals are produced that can be filtered, amplified and analysed in real-time to produce multiple data sets relating to physiological output, limb movement, proprioception and either tensile or compressive force detection within or upon organic or man-made structures.

In essence this process allows a compression bandage, for example, to electronically monitor itself and potentially the tissue beneath it without internal wiring. The information obtained is wirelessly transmitted to a monitor that can then store or pass it along to the patient and/or caregiver allowing for real-time calculation of the dosage of the treatment modality, that is, the compression applied to specific treatment areas. Because this entire process is wireless from the fabric itself to the monitor, patient comfort and the durability of the bandage is preserved. The Footfalls and Heartbeats product, smart sock, used to measure the degree of compression from overlying compression bandages was displayed at the AdvaMed meeting in Washington, DC, USA in September, 2013.

Other applications of smart textiles can include medical monitoring during testing such as ECG and further developments are expected to allow the textiles to monitor active and passive muscular and vascular function with the potential, for example, to allow for ambulatory testing of venous functions (plethysmography, etc).

I extend my appreciation to Dean Bender (President, CircAid by medi) for his expertise.

A partial list of companies developing smart textiles/products appears below.

Footfalls and Heartbeats:

Dr. Scholl's pressure monitor devices:

Heapsylon (US):