Using smart clothing to conquer societal challenges
As TNO at Holst Centre we use our expertise in hybrid printed electronics to create smart clothing that improves human health and wellbeing with highly personalised solutions that blend unobtrusively into everyday life. This human-centred technology could well be the answer to a multitude of societal challenges.
From a shirt with haptic breathing guidance that helps regulate stress, to a pregnancy belt for monitoring foetal health at home. Hybrid printed electronics developed by TNO at Holst Centre pave the way for a new generation of electronic applications that contribute to solutions for a whole range of societal issues. Smart clothing measures biometric data almost instinctively and is barely noticeable, while the wearer feels comfortable and secure. It is worn so close to the body that it delivers data of exceptional accuracy. Printed electronics are thin, stretchable, flexible and mouldable, which is ideal for the design and manufacturing of smart clothing. Fashion design is the key to incorporate tech in comfortable garments that look ‘smart’, as well. To help partners build smart clothing and smart textile applications, TNO at Holst Centre has developed a ‘mix and match’ platform of thin, stretchable and washable printed electronic technologies. The platform allows a wide range of sensors and actuators – including ECG and bioimpedance electrodes, LEDs, solar cells and temperature, oxygen saturation, strain and motion sensors – to be combined and manufactured together. From a garment-manufacturing point of view, the printed electronics can be thought of as a trim that can easily be integrated into the garment through commonly used heat-bonding processes. This offers complete design freedom and facilitates recycling through delamination. The platform has been developed and thoroughly validated (on electrical and mechanical performance, as well as washability and wearability) in a number of our own and client applications.
The global health care system is under strain and our society is confronted with an increasingly older population and a shortage of health care professionals. At the same time, people experience more stress caused by demanding working environments, and a growing sense of loneliness in this digital age. Smart clothing is a good example of technology that has the potential to alleviate the burden of our caregivers and pose a solution to the social issue of stress. As the interface between our bodies and the world around us, clothing is the perfect platform to make solutions personal and part of normal life, helping people to be more resilient, supported and protected during work, sports and leisure activities.