Develop digitized clothing with a wide range of applications in the field of sports and health

The UOC is leading a project to make health monitoring using radio frequency identification technology accessible to everyone. Smart clothes use sweat to monitor health.

Physical activity is beneficial to health at any age and in almost any environment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), up to five million premature deaths a year could be avoided if the world’s population were more physically active. However, excessive or improper physical exercise can lead to adverse effects in some cases, which means that health should always be closely monitored.

Some technological solutions to monitor various physiological and biochemical indicators such as heart rate, nutrition and hydration level have become widespread in recent years. However, the use of many wearable sensors and devices has been limited to elite athletes, and advances in electronic health have yet to benefit society as a whole.

With this in mind, a team of researchers from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), led by Joan Melià Seguí, researcher from the Wireless Networks (WINE) group of the Interdisciplinary Internet Institute (IN3), is studying how to make the monitoring of health parameters during physical exercise accessible to all. The project focuses on hydration and sweat analysis.

The research project, named HydraSport, was approved through a call for grants from the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sports for research projects in science and technology applied to physical activity beneficial to health and sports medicine, and will be financed by European funds. for the recovery, transformation and resilience plan.

Smart fabrics and sweat sensors

Regular physical exercise is essential for preventing and managing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. According to the WHO, it also helps reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, alleviate cognitive decline, improve memory, and improve brain health. However, according to the organization, one in four adults worldwide and four in five adolescents do not get enough physical exercise.

In some cases, such as the elderly, sick people, or those who live in environments with unfavorable climates (such as very hot places), physical exercise is more likely to have negative health effects such as dehydration. “

Joan Melià Seguí, Researcher, Wireless Networks Group (WINE), Interdisciplinary Internet Institute (IN3)

For this reason, the monitoring of fundamental parameters such as hydration must be made available to everyone in order to improve the conditions for making physical exercise a universal and beneficial activity for health.

For the researchers, this means integrating flexible, inexpensive technology without batteries or complex circuitry into everyday clothing, allowing health to be measured in an unaided and non-invasive way. The UOC team is studying the possibility of integrating radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies into smart fabrics that use sweat to collect information about the hydration of the person wearing them.

“We have to meet several requirements in order to control hydration, in a non-invasive way that can be integrated into everyday clothing,” explained Melià Seguí, professor at the Faculty of Computing, Multimedia and Telecommunications. “We first need a body fluid that is rich in hydration-related biomarkers, that is produced in sufficient quantities during physical exercise and that easily comes into contact with clothing. Sweat potentially contains a lot of important information, even though it is traditionally an underutilized resource in noninvasive health monitoring”.

Another requirement is to find a technology that allows data to be collected, but which goes virtually unnoticed by the person using it. “We need a small-scale, very low-cost technology that allows both measurement by means of a sensor and data communication via technologies compatible with the Internet of Things”, adds the researcher. “In its various versions, RFID is a technology that can operate without a battery, since the tags are powered by radio frequency waves from the reading equipment, and its design allows basic measurements to be made in exchange for a cost very low production.

Towards healthy physical activity for all

“The primary objective is to promote physical exercise beneficial to health, following the recommendations of the WHO and the third United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being of everyone at any age), by manufacturing smart clothing that allows basic monitoring of health parameters such as hydration accessible to everyone,” concludes the UOC researcher.

The HydraSport project aims to make positive contributions to science and industry, and to society as a whole. Developments like the one UOC researchers hope to achieve can improve health-focused early diagnosis and prevention systems for people who play sports. Because it is a low-cost solution that can easily be integrated into current medical systems, the barrier to adoption would be low for the industry, and it could be a vehicle for making breakthroughs in of digital health accessible to society as a whole.

The project also seeks to demonstrate the feasibility of integrating very low cost passive sensors with RFID technology into textile materials, which would allow industry to develop digitized garments with a wide range of applications in sport and health prevention. “During the project, we will study suitable fabrics and technological designs,” added Joan Melià Seguí. “We hope the results pave the way for future collaborations with other researchers and industry.”


Open University of Catalonia

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