Empa develops smart fibres

Empa researchers have produced optical fibres for sensors in a flexible form that allows them to be incorporated into textiles. In future, this could facilitate methods such as monitoring heart rate and circulation.

Empa develops smart fibres

A research group has succeeded in producing particularly flexible polymer optical fibres, announced the Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (Empa). “These fibres, which are common in communication technology, are usually not flexible enough,” commented study lead author Maike Quandt.

In comparison, the fibres developed by the research group led by Luciano Boesel at Empa in St.Gallen can be incorporated into textiles and do not snap when knotted. They can also withstand any damage from disinfectant wash cycles. Involved in the project alongside Empa were the research institute CSEM, the University Hospital Zurich and the Paraplegic Centre Nottwil.

The test incorporated the fibres into a textile sensor in a hat to measure heart rate in the forehead. The sensor works with light transmitted through the fabric that is returned to the detector with varying degrees of intensity according to the pulse.

“We have validated it for heart rate, but it would also be possible to use it to monitor oxygen saturation or metabolic products,” explained research group leader Boesel. For example, the sensors could be used to measure blood circulation in the skin to prevent bedsores in patients.

In principle, the sensors could be used in any situation that “requires measurements without causing uncomfortable friction on the skin”. They could, for example, be particularly relevant to the manufacture of sports underwear.

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