Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a fiber with digital capabilities, which is capable of detecting, storing, analyzing and inferring activity after being sewn into a shirt. This digital fiber is also programmable and contains memory, temperature sensors and a neural network program trained to infer physical activity, according to experts.
Yoel Fink, professor in computer science and engineering, electrical and materials, as well as the author and principal investigator of the study, notes that digital fibers expand the possibilities of fabrics to discover the context of hidden patterns in the human body. Likewise, the engineer comments that they could be used to monitor physical performance, medical inference and early detection of diseases.
The study, in the words of its author for an article, adds a new dimension of information content to textiles, allowing fabrics to spread. To create the fiber, hundreds of square silicon microscale digital chips were used in a preform, which was then used to create a polymer fiber. Said fiber is thin and flexible, it can be passed through a needle, sewn into fabrics and washed without breaking.
Digital fiber is capable of storing a considerable amount of information, according to its creators, who were able to write, store and read information on fiber. Similarly, a 767 kilobit color short film file and a 0.48 megabit music file, both files were stored by fiber for 2 months without the need for power. In turn, a neural network of 1,650 connections was included within the memory of the fiber.
By adding an AI component, the fiber increases its chances of success: “Tissues with digital components can collect a lot of information throughout the body over time. This rich data is perfect for machine learning algorithms,” he says Gabriel Loke, a doctoral student and another lead author of the study.
“This type of tissue could provide open source data in quantity and quality to extract new body patterns that we did not know before,” says Loke. However, he comments that with the analytical power the fibers could detect and alert people in real time about changes in health such as respiratory deterioration or an irregular heartbeat. And even get to deliver information on muscle activation and heart rate in athletes during training.
It should be noted that digital fiber is controlled by a small external device and the researchers intend to design a new microcontroller chip, which can be connected within the same fiber, for better information capture and storage.