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Smart fibres to help regulate your breathing

Researchers at MIT (US) and the University of Uppsala (Sweden) developed a new type of smart fibre that can be woven into clothing. The fibre can sense how much it is being stretched or compressed and can respond in real time to help people control their breathing.

The fibre are hollow on the inside and are controlled by a fluid medium, such as compressed air or water. This fluid medium helps the fibre act like an artificial muscle. They also contain stretchable sensors that can detect and measure the degree of stretching in the fibres.

The fibre consists of five layers: a hollow channel, a silicone-based elastomeric tube to contain the fluid, a sensor, a braided polymer stretchable outer mesh that controls the user dimensions of the fibre, and a non-stretchy filament.

Called OmniFibers, the fibre are narrow, comparable to medium sized polyester fibre, and made of inexpensive materials. This makes it relatively easy to structure the fibre in a variety of fabric forms, including clothing.

In a test application of the material, the team made a type of undergarment that singers can wear to monitor and play back the movement of respiratory muscles. The garment provides kinesthetic feedback to encourage optimal posture and breathing patterns for the desired goal performance. The garment was designed in collaboration with an opera singer.

Other future applications might include helping athletes control their breathing in a given situation, or even help patients regain healthy breathing after major surgery or respiratory disease such as Covid-19. It might even form an alternative treatment for sleep apnea.

Photos courtesy of the researchers via MIT

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