Textiles feel the pressure

Pressure sensors are one of the most useful applications of printed electronics. They can accurately measure a force or the weight of an object, or function as simple on/off buttons.

'Smart' textiles and clothing utilize printed pressure sensors for many different tasks. A common example is a printed pressure sensor that is incorporated into a jacket to provide a control interface, where thin, flexible sensors act as buttons or switches.

Solutions without a visual display use a small buzzer or vibration motor to provide the necessary haptic feedback. Bluetooth provides a compact, low-cost wireless solution for transmitting data between various items in the smart clothing, leveraging low power consumption to maximise battery time between charges.

For sport and exercise scenarios, where it is necessary to detect the movement of the foot and/or analyse an athlete’s motion, multiple pressure sensors can be simply printed onto the insole of running shoes. What about golf gloves? They can now tell you how well you're gripping your golf club, and provide useful feedback to improve your game.

Protective clothing is yet another interesting area, where pressure sensors can instantly detect an impact force acting on the wearer. This is particularly helpful in sports situations for identifying risks of injury or documenting cumulative health consequences of collisions and impacts on an athlete. Smart protective clothing can be used to detect and report traffic accidents or other trauma to the wearer, making them ideal for remotely tracking the safety of emergency workers operating in high-risk environments.

In medical applications, clothing with built-in pressure sensors can be used to monitor the movement of hospital patients and vulnerable elderly people in social care facilities or when living alone at home. Data from the sensors is sent in real time to healthcare workers or carers directly via Bluetooth or WiFi, or remotely over the internet and used to monitor the status of a patient, e.g., to sound an alarm if they fall, stop breathing or have an accident.

But it’s not just about clothing – for example, pressure sensors can be incorporated into the fabric of a chair, both into the seat and the backrest. The generated dynamic data provides information about how someone is sitting and help them improve their posture. Inside a car, sensing an occupant’s weight and seating position can be used to adjust the position of an airbag and the force used when it deploys.

The fabric incorporating printed sensors can be stretchable yet very thin with a thickness of 1mm or less. It can be strong and lightweight, resistant to chemicals and safe to wash hundreds of times. For healthcare applications, it can be provided as 'medical grade' material that is suitable for use with patients.

InnovationLab has extensive experience in creating printed pressure sensors and has the capability to integrate the sensors into textiles. Alternatively, sensors can be printed onto TPU, a heat-sensitive thermoplastic polyurethane that is subsequently ironed onto the fabric.