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Wearable tech makes motion-sensing clothes

17 Dec 2014  | Peter Clarke

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Cambridge Consultants Ltd has developed a smart fabric interwoven with fibre optic sensors that turns washable garments into active motion sensors. The XelfleX technology can be used to get body motion information from sports, fitness and medical rehabilitation, as well as for gaming, filmmaking and virtual reality creation.

Most attempts at body motion capture in recent times have been addressed by applying inertial motion sensors with wireless communications at key points of the body, usually through wearing a specialised suit. And despite the increased miniaturisation of MEMS sensors this has involved cumbersome electronics and electronics that could not be put in the washing machine.

The XelfleX uses fibre-optic thread as the sensor. It requires a single electronics pack that clips on to the fibre—in a pocket for example—and communicates wirelessly with a smartphone. The pack disconnects when the garment needs to be washed.

XelfleX works on the principle that when a pulse of light is transmitted down an optical fibre, a well-defined amount of light is scattered continuously along its length. Bending the fibre results in increased scattering and reflection, which can then be measured.

By integrating the fibre into a close-fitting garment, the movement of a joint can change the amount of bending at a defined sensor point in the fibre. Up to 10 sensors are possible along each fibre—with the initial light pulse sent by an LED in the electronics pack. Algorithms then turn the results from the sensors into guidance that users can easily understand, giving feedback on their posture and movement, and coaching them on how to improve.

Cambridge Consultants will be demonstrating XelfleX at the 2015 International CES, January 6 to 9, in the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

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