When we talk about Wearable Technology we usually think about the new hot items of activity tracking bracelets and shirts, smart watches or gorgeous looking, illuminated and animated garments. These Wearables getting almost all of the public attention.
Only when we dig a little deeper into Wearable Technology we find another, to my opinion highly interesting area where Wearable Technology provides great benefits: the Healthcare sector.
Although there are many areas in Healthcare which will benefit greatly from wearable technology developments, I am picking for todays article ECG shirts because a simpler from of ECG, Heart-rate measuring apparels in the recreational and sports domain start to be attractive in the consumer space.
Many companies and institution spend huge amount of money and time to do just that, create a shirt that measures accurately medical grade ECG. Medical grade means not just 1 or 2 electrodes we see in fitness shirts but 12 or more. These electrodes and data lines have to perform to the highest level of accuracy.
Development of products suitable and approved for healthcare application is much more demanding on reliability and accuracy of measurements compared to fitness tracking applications.
The undeniable benefit of professional grade ECG shirts become clear when looking at the image on top of this article: currently it takes quite some time to wire up a person with all these electrode patches. Wires crisscrossing around the body, limiting the movement of a person to a great extend.
With an ECG shirt which has all the electrode patches and wiring on the right places, seamless integrated in the shirt the only action left is to connect the shirt to the signal processing unit.
A lot of time can be saved and used instead for patient care. Such ECG shirt will make it possible to monitor a patient for longer time without having the patient sitting next to a machine as it is currently the case.
Heart-rate monitoring shirts for sport and fitness as we see currently on the market have their challenges to fabricate, challenges to achieve accuracy required for representative and reliable ‘medical grade’ quality. These simplified HR measuring shirts are good enough to get the ‘big picture’ of workout performance but can not be used to get even close to be used for a medical condition assessment.
These two areas, the medical and the recreational use, show there is still a lot of room for innovators and makers to work out truly wearable technology which delivers same accuracy, cost and reliability as non-wearable technologies currently in use.
Wearable Technology solutions for electrodes and textile wiring which are fully integrated into the textiles used for such garments, signal processing and very low power solution to send signals to a processing unit.
I do get the message from multiple sides, telling me that Heart-rate monitoring shirts for sport and fitness are primary for hard core enthusiasts. For monitoring heart-rate because of medical condition, I would not trust these shirts.
These observations and concerns are valid and the maker of HRM shirts never claim any medical accuracy. Yes, wearing a HRM shirt does require some serious dedication to body monitoring.
Nevertheless I do encourage the Wearable Technology community to spend creativity and time to working out THE solution for a 100% textile based ECG/HRM shirt. It will be time well spend for the medical use in health care and ‘trickle down’ to improvement in fitness and wellness sector.
The Shirt drawing in the image above is taken from the paper “A Single-chip Encrypted Wireless 12-Lead ECG Smart Shirt for Continuous Health Monitoring” by T. Morrison et al., University of Washington, he presented at the Symposia on VLSI Technology & Circuits 2014.