Inspired by human hearing, a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) set out to create a “acoustic fabric,” according to the Daily Mail (UK), inspired by human hearing. Soft, durable and comfortable. From there, they came up with the idea to develop a special fabric, which works like a radio device. According to the mechanism, this fabric will convert sounds into mechanical vibrations, and then turn them into electrical signals, similar to the human ear’s hearing mechanism. The new study was published in the journal Nature.
According to the engineers, when woven into the lining of the shirt, this fabric can detect the wearer’s heartbeat every time it touches the skin. To test that, the team sewed a fabric into the inner lining of the shirt, just above the chest area, and found it accurately detected the heart rate of a healthy volunteer.
It is surprising that this fabric can pick up different sounds, from the quietest noise in the library, to the bustling sounds of a busy street. In addition, it is also capable of accurately determining the direction of sudden sounds, such as clapping. Meanwhile, the fabric retains its inherent properties, such as being machine washable or wrung out.
“This fabric is very soft to wear,” said Ms. Wei Yan, MIT principal investigator and assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The wearer can monitor their heart rate and respiratory status continuously in real time.”
Not only that, but the fabric is also made to emit sounds, such as recordings of previously spoken words. Ms. Yan added: “Wearing a fabric that emits sound, you can answer phone calls and communicate with others through it.”
The study’s co-author, Elizabeth Meiklejohn at RISD, says the fabric resembles a light jacket, lighter than denim, but heavier than a shirt dress. If successfully developed, it will open wide application opportunities.
The researchers hope that this sound-oriented sensing fabric can help people with hearing impairments adjust to sound in noisy environments. In addition to monitoring the wearer’s heart rate, incorporating acoustic fabric into pregnant women’s clothing can also help monitor the fetal heart rate.
Meanwhile, researchers hope the fabric will be incorporated into spacecraft hulls to listen for the amount of space dust accumulation, or attached to buildings to detect cracks or deformation. It could even be woven into a smart net to monitor the growth of marine species.
“The results of this study provide a whole new way for us to listen to our bodies and our surroundings,” said one researcher.
The scientists have yet to reveal details about the fabric’s price as the idea is still in the early stages of development.
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