Fabric that can “hear” one’s heartbeat via high-tech fibers has been developed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The tech could also be used on clothes worn by pregnant women to help them pick up their baby’s heartbeat.
This potentially revolutionary tech could give rise to wearable hearing aids and clothes that can speak to each other. It works by first converting sounds into mechanical vibrations before they are converted again into electrical signals, similar to how the ear works. All fabrics vibrate in response to sounds, although these responses are normally far too small to be audible.
Researchers stitched a single fiber to a shirt’s inner lining, just over the chest region, and found it accurately detected the heartbeat of a healthy volunteer, along with subtle variations in the heart’s “lub-dub” features. They say the possibilities for the new technology are endless.
“It can be integrated with spacecraft skin to listen to accumulating space dust, or embedded into buildings to detect cracks or strains,” says lead author Dr. Wei Yan, who helped develop the fiber as an MIT postdoc, in a statement. “It can even be woven into a smart net to monitor fish in the ocean. The fiber is opening widespread opportunities. Wearing an acoustic garment, you might talk through it to answer phone calls and communicate with others.
“In addition, this fabric can imperceptibly interface with the human skin, enabling wearers to monitor their heart and respiratory condition in a comfortable, continuous, real-time, and long-term manner,” adds Dr. Yan, who is now an assistant professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.