Programmable digital fiber integrated into clothing

In recent years, the miniaturization of digital fibers and the extension of their capacity to carry information make them essential today in many fields. Researchers have gone even further by developing a programmable digital fiber, equipped with various sensors, embedding artificial intelligence and capable of storing data. This fiber can easily be integrated into textiles and collect medical and contextual information on its wearer.

MIT researchers have created the first fiber with digital capabilities capable of detecting, storing, analyzing and inferring activity after being incorporated into tissue. Yoel Fink, professor of materials science and electrical engineering, principal investigator of the Electronics Research Laboratory, says digital fibers expand the possibilities for tissues to discover the context of patterns hidden in the human body, which could be used to physical performance monitoring, medical inference, and early disease detection.

Fink and colleagues describe the characteristics of digital fiber in the review Nature Communications. Until now, electronic fibers have been analog – carrying a continuous electrical signal – rather than digital, where discrete bits of information can be encoded and processed into 0’s and 1’s. ” This work presents the first realization of a fabric with the ability to store and process data digitally, adding a new dimension of information content to textiles and allowing fabrics to literally program. », Explains Fink.

An ultra-fine digital fiber capable of storing and processing data

The new fiber was created by placing hundreds of square micrometer digital silicon chips in a preform which was then used to create a polymer fiber. By precisely controlling the flow of polymer, the researchers were able to create a fiber with a continuous electrical connection between the chips over a length of several tens of meters.

The fiber itself is fine and flexible and can be passed through a needle, sewn into fabrics, and washed at least 10 times without breaking down. According to the researchers, “ when you put it in a shirt, you can’t smell it at all. You don’t know she’s there. Manufacturing a digital fiber opens up different areas of opportunity and actually solves some of the problems with functional fibers. “.

Top: simplified diagram of the digital fiber configuration. Bottom: integration of the fiber in a garment sleeve. © Gabriel Loke et al. 2021

For example, it provides a way to control the individual elements in a fiber, from a point at the end of the fiber. The research team devised a method of numeric addressing that allows them to “activate” the functionality of an element without activating all the elements. A digital fiber can also store a lot of information. The researchers were able to write, store and read information about the fiber, including a 767 kilobit color short film file and a 0.48 megabyte audio file.

Files can be stored for two months without power. When imagining outlandish ideas for fiber, the researchers thought of applications like a wedding dress that would store wedding music in its fabric, or even writing the story of the creation of the fiber in its components. .

Artificial intelligence to analyze and interpret information

The fiber is also taking a few steps forward in gene editing by integrating, within the fiber memory, a neural network of 1650 connections. After sewing it around the armpit of a shirt, the researchers used the fiber to collect 270 minutes of body temperature data from a person wearing the shirt, and to analyze how that data correlated with different physical activities. Formed on this data, the fiber was able to determine with 96% accuracy in which activity the wearer was engaged.

Adding an AI component to fiber further increases its possibilities, the researchers say. Tissues with digital components can collect a lot of information about the whole body over time, and this “rich data” is perfect for machine learning algorithms, says Gabriel Loke, a researcher at MIT. ” This type of tissue could provide quantity and quality open source data to extract new body models that we did not know before. “.

With this analytical power, fibers could one day detect and alert people in real time to health changes like respiratory decline or irregular heartbeat, or provide muscle activation or heart rate data to athletes during training. . With the fiber being controlled by a small external device, the next step will therefore be to design a new chip as a microcontroller that can be connected inside the fiber itself.

Sources: Nature Communications

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