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"Robotic" OmniFibers: New Fibers Can Make Breath-Regulating Garments

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"Robotic" textiles could help performers and athletes train their breathing, and potentially help patients recovering from postsurgery breathing changes. A new kind of fiber developed by researchers at MIT and in Sweden can be made into clothing that senses how much it is being stretched or compr
"Robotic" textiles could help performers and athletes train their breathing, and potentially help patients recovering from postsurgery breathing changes.

A new kind of fiber developed by researchers at MIT and in Sweden can be made into clothing that senses how much it is being stretched or compressed, and then provides immediate tactile feedback in the form of pressure, lateral stretch, or vibration. Such fabrics, the team suggests, could be used in garments that help train singers or athletes to better control their breathing, or that help patients recovering from disease or surgery to recover their breathing patterns.

The multilayered fibers contain a fluid channel in the center, which can be activated by a fluidic system. This system controls the fibers' geometry by pressurizing and releasing a fluid medium, such as compressed air or water, into the channel, allowing the fiber to act as an artificial muscle. The fibers also contain stretchable sensors that can detect and measure the degree of stretching of the fibers. The resulting composite fibers are thin and flexible enough to be sewn, woven, or knitted using standard commercial machines.

The fibers, dubbed OmniFibers, are being presented this week at the Association for Computing Machinery's User Interface Software and Technology online conference, in a paper by Ozgun Kilic Afsar, a visiting doctoral student and research affiliate at MIT; Hiroshi Ishii, the Jerome B. Wiesner Professor of Media Arts and Sciences; and eight others from the MIT Media Lab, Uppsala University, and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden.

The new fiber architecture has a number of key features. Its extremely narrow size and use of inexpensive material make it relatively easy to structure the fibers into a variety of fabric forms. It's also compatible with human skin, since its outer layer is based on a material similar to common polyester. And, its fast response time and the strength and variety of the forces it can…
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