Artikkeli on julkaistu suomennettuna Tekstiililehden numerossa 2-3/2016

Smart textiles for wellbeing

Smart textiles combine traditional textile canvas with electronic and digital materials, and hold the properties of both – the soft skin friendly fabric and the dynamic data components. The combination of textiles and technology opens up opportunities for societal sustainability and wellbeing. Those go beyond the product-oriented sustainability aspects for textile items and are moving towards service-oriented thinking. 

Services for taking care of our textiles are wide known. For example, cleaning, fixing and renting services for work and hospital wear as well as hotel and household textiles is common practice with a proven history. What about allowing the textiles and garments to care of us? Would we appreciate a gentle tap on a shoulder that reminds us to straighten the back, better than an app or a robot demanding us to do so? 

Interesting questions definitely arise when technology moves closer to the body, and starts to dress us. However, before such concepts can become reality they need to be proposed, tried out, discussed, redesigned, evaluated, remade, and so on. The following projects are prototypes developed collaboratively in multidisciplinary teams to initiate the discussion around smart textile services for health care.

Vibe-ing, a healing garment

Vibe-ing is a self-care tool in the form of a garment, which invites the body to feel, move, and heal through the vibration therapy. It is developed in Eindhoven University of Technology Wearable Senses Lab by design-researchers Eunjeong Jeon, Kristi Kuusk, Martijn ten Bhömer in collaboration with textile innovation partner TextielMuseum TextielLab, and intelligent product’s developer Metatronics. 
kuusk_CRISP - Vibe-ing - Wetzer & Berends (c)_72 
Vibe-ing offers possibilities for self-healthcare services at home. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer & Bas Berends

The merino wool garment contains knitted pockets, embedded with electronic circuit boards that enable the garment to sense touch and vibrate specific pressure points on the body. With this design the developers aim to inform a multi-disciplinary audience about the opportunities of integrating textile and vibration for wellbeing and self-healthcare services at home and in everyday context. By integrating vibration actuators in textile pockets the design enables the developers to program the exact activation areas and stimulation on the body depending on the specific person’s need for rehabilitation and healing. The fully-fashioned knitting technique allows the garments to fit the individual’s body and needs with minimal material use. The envisioned service uses the programmable motor boards fitted into the pockets to allow the garment to change its stimulation behavior according to the personal needs of the wearer.

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Vigour facilitates interaction and rehabilitation

Vigour is a product-service system that enables geriatric patients, their family and physiotherapists to gain more insight into the exercise and progress of a rehabilitation process.  It is developed in Eindhoven University of Technology Wearable Senses Lab in collaboration between a designer-researcher Martijn ten Bhömer and a fashion designer Pauline van Dongen in collaboration with a care organization De Wever, intelligent product’s developer Metatronics, digital content developers Unit040, textile developers Savo BV, and TextielMuseum TextielLab.
Vigour has stretch sensor woven into the garment. Photo by Hammond Images

The Vigour cardigan is a soft knitted garment that can monitor the movements of the upper body. The stretch sensors are created from wool-like conductive yarns which are knitted into the garment itself on locations in the lower back and arms. The garment can be worn during the day in order to gather movement data. Next to this the garment can help to motivate the wearer when executing rehabilitation exercises by giving sound feedback through the specially developed iPad application. The project has a high social value, since it advances ways of communication between geriatric patients and their therapists and encourages interaction and movement. 
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Smart garments offer support and safety for care workers

While Vibe-ing and Vigour offer care and connection with the therapists for the patients, MVO Sustainable and supportive garments for nurses are targeted for nurses and caregivers themselves. It is developed by design and textile experts Marina Toeters from by-wire.net, Marloes Blaas, Alcon Advies, DutchSpirit, JJH Textiles, Newasco, Van Puijenbroek Textiel, care givers and hospitals Radboudumc, UMC Groningen, UMC Utrecht, Brabant Zorg and initiated by Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Netherlands and their Network Care.

MVO undergarments for nurses support health professionals in their work. Photo by Jan Willem Groen

The comfortable garments include a posture sensor, a gas sensor, and a supportive under layer. They are designed as a uniform system. The undergarment’s pattern construction and fabric consistency gives health professionals support in shoulders, lower back and knees. The outerwear has anti-bacterial coating, which reduces the risk of bacterial contamination. Electronic components in the garments trigger a warning signal in case of overload and unbalanced postures. A gas sensor warns the wearer about the air risks in the area around.
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 “MVO Sustainable and supportive garments for nurses” is a workwear concept and collection for care workers.
Photo by Jan Willem Groen

Applications for wellbeing

The smart textile proposals may seem as more expensive alternative to already existing clothing, however the service aspect allows them to take up a completely different role. Vibe-ing keeps the wearer warm, protected and always connected to the therapist. It also allows personalized vibration therapy to be delivered in any convenient location. Vigour collects information about the body movements over extended time in daily use. This information can be used by therapists and medical staff to create personalized therapy programs, and allow the wearer and family members to be more involved in the caregiving process. Both prototypes allow less physical trips to the medical center (saving travel time, pollution, and energy), and ideally help to achieve better health without chemical medication. MVO Sustainable and supportive garments for nurses keeps the nurses healthy and safe from infections. They are able to give better care for longer period of time.

The chosen examples represent a fraction of proposed applications where smart textiles support wellbeing. They open up a new design space where traditional textile values and properties meet with innovation-driven technology and its possibilities.

Text: Kristi Kuusk


Kristi Kuusk recently published her PhD work “Crafting sustainable smart textile services” at Eindhoven University of Technology. Currently she is developing new smart textile concepts in Estonian-based studio Spell disain, and consulting textile industry partners who are looking into innovating their product lines.
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Instagram: @kuuskkristi@spelldisain