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This Shirt Could Save Your Life

Wearable "motherboard" monitors vital signs of soldiers in the field or babies in their cribs.

By Michelle M. Havich, Associate Editor

M edical technology you would think came out of Star Wars may soon be available today thanks to a research team from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), Atlanta.

Led by Dr. Sundaresan Jayaraman, an ATI technical editor, the team has developed the Wearable Motherboard ™, or "Smart Shirt," a garment that uses optical fibers to unobtrusively monitor the wearer's vital statistics.

The other members of the design team are Sungmee Park, research associate; Dr. Ranga Rajamanickam, research engineer; and Dr. Chandramohan Gopalsamy, research associate.

What Is It?

The research for the Wearable Motherboard was funded by the U.S. Department of the Navy. The military wanted to develop a tool for pinpointing soldiers' injuries on the field and judging the severity of the injury.

The design of the shirt has a plastic optical fiber (POF) spirally integrated into the structure of a woven T-shirt during the fabric production process without any discontinuities at the arm holes or seams. According to the design team, with this method, there is no need for "cut and sew" operations to produce a garment from a two-dimensional fabric. This represents a significant breakthrough in textile engineering because for the first time, a full-fashioned garment has been woven on a weaving machine.


The Smart Shirt as worn by Jayaraman. Pictured with him are Park (left), Gopalsamy and Rajamanickam (right).

How It Works

In order for the shirt to "work," sensors are mounted at various locations on the wearer's body. These sensors are then attached to T-Connectors along the fibers running through the Smart Shirt. These fibers serve as a data "bus" to carry information.

At the other end, similar T-Connectors are used to transmit the information to monitoring equipment of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) personal status monitor.

For example, if a soldier is hit by a bullet in the field, a signal is sent from one end of the POF to a receiver at the other end. The emitter and the receiver are connected to a Personal Status Monitor (PSM), which is worn at the hip level. If the light from the emitter does not reach the receiver inside the PSM, it signifies that the shirt has been penetrated. The signal bounces back to the PSM frm the point of penetration, helping the medical personnel pinpoint the exact location of the wound.

The soldier's vital signs, including heart rate, temperature and respiration, are monitored through the T-shirt's sensors and through the sensors on the soldier's body. This information is transmitted electronically from the PSM to a medical triage unit somewhere near the battlefield. The triage unit would then take the appropriate emergency action.

The Smart Shirt would be used in the same way to monitor fire-fighters and policemen in the line of duty.

Other Uses

The research done by Georgia Tech to create this wearable mother board opens up new doors in technology, with many uses for the Smart Shirt.

In the healthcare field, the shirt can be used to monitor post-operative patients as they recuperate at home, or geriatric patients. It could also be helpful to monitor infants that are susceptible to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

The Smart Shirt could also be used to monitor astronauts in space, and how outer space affects the body.

For more information about the Wearable Motherboard, contact Dr. Jayaraman at (404) 894-2490 or sundaresan.jayaraman@tfe.gatech.edu.

October 1999