Futuristic Shirt Functions as a Microphone, Hearing Aid, or Heart Monitor

Eric Sentell

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Boy shouting into a microphoneJason Rosewell

Microphones, hearing aids, and heart monitors can be bulky, intrusive, or ineffective.

The shirt on your back, unless it's itchy wool, isn't bulky or intrusive.

One day, the shirt on your back could also be an effective microphone that helps you hear or monitors your heart rate and breathing.

Inspired by the crisscrossing fibers of the human eardrum, materials scientist Wei Yan of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore created a new clothing fabric that converts soundwaves into electrical signals.

The inner eardrum contains collagen fibers that both radiate from its center and form concentric rings. The crisscrossing pattern resembles the weaving of clothes.

The eardrum receives sound waves and converts them into electrical signals in the cochlea, and the brain then interprets those signals into what we experience as "sound."

Wei Yan invented a new fiber blend called Twaron. The unique blend of fibers contains a type of fiber that produces a small electrical charge when pressed or bent.

The electrical charge can then be received and read by an electric device. Like the human cochlea, the device interprets the electric signal into "sound."

Clothing produced with this fiber could capture and transmit sound. Instead of wearing a microphone, your shirt could be a microphone. Quiet speakers like myself could amplify our voices and finally stop hearing, "What?"

Hearing aids could receive the signal from the shirt, which could capture larger swaths of sound waves and thus give the hearing aid more signal to work with.

The fabric is so sensitive that it can even pick up one's heartbeat like a stethoscope. Heart monitors could use the signal from the microphone shirt instead of a sticky diode that you paste onto your chest.

The shirt, Yan says, can be washed up to ten times and still function as a microphone. Future designs will likely improve and become even more durable.

And those are just the obvious applications. One day, nanotechnology like Twaron may enable our clothing to monitor many different aspects of our health simultaneously. We could have real-time, constant data about our heart rates, breathing, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, and more.

Access to so much data about our health could revolutionize healthcare, and it could also give us a lot of anxiety. Gains in artificial intelligence will help us sort and interpret the mass of data, and good old fashioned human wisdom will help us keep the information in perspective.

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