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Innovation + Job News

U of M apparel design professor explores future of everyday "smart clothing"

Could the clothing we wear someday help us monitor our heart rate, track our performance, or even recover from injuries?

That's the future Lucy Dunne is exploring as an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota's apparel design program

Dunne studies wearable technologies, sometimes referred to as "smart clothing." The term describes to clothing or accessories that incorporate come sort of electronic component.

It's an emerging field with a lot of interest but few products on the shelf so far. One example would be Nike shoes that can send information to an iPod or iPhone. Then there are tackier, or should we say more novel, applications, like the mp3 player jacket or light-up T-shirts.

More serious applications, though, revolve around sports and medicine. One challenge with integrating body monitoring technology into clothing, says Dunne, is that in order to pick up a quality signal, such as a heartbeat, most sensors need to be tightly affixed to the body, often with a strap or a patch.

"I was originally a clothing designer, and in clothing design you can't ask the consumer to make those kinds of compromises, where they're uncomfortable or they feel like they look weird," says Dunne. "So my interest is in translating those sensing techniques into everyday clothing."

Dunne recently received a garment-tech innovation award for her work studying how signal quality is affected by looser fitting clothing (or "Joint Sensing in Everyday Clothing: Analysis of Garment Ease and Signal Noise in a Garment-Integrated Optical Bend Sensor.")

The hope is that her work will one day lead to everyday smart clothing that does more than light up or play music.

Source: Lucy Dunne, University of Minnesota
Writer: Dan Haugen
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