MIT team develops robotic textiles that can help control breathing

Researchers working together from MIT and Sweden have developed a new robotic textile that can be woven into clothing. The textile can sense stretching and compression, giving immediate tactile feedback via pressure, lateral stretch, or vibration. Researchers believe the fabric could be used to make garments that singers and athletes can use to improve breath control.

Such fabrics could also help users who are recovering from surgery or a disease that affects breathing capability and patterns. MIT's fiber is made from multiple layers with a fluid channel in the center activated utilizing fluidic systems. The system can control the geometry of the fiber by pressurizing and releasing a fluid inside the channel.

The fluid can be air or water, and when activated, the fibers act as an artificial muscle. Also woven into the fiber are stretchable sensors able to detect and measure how much the fibers are stretched. The fibers are thin enough and flexible enough to be sewn, woven, or knitted utilizing standard commercially available machines.

Researchers call the new fibers OmniFibers. It has an architecture highlighted by multiple important features, including a very narrow size and inexpensive materials used in the construction. MIT notes the material is also able to be structured into a variety of fabric forms. Another important aspect is that the material is compatible with human skin with an external material similar to polyester.

Researchers also designed their material with a fast response time and enough strength and flexibility to provide rapid feedback. In their testing, the team designed an undergarment singers wear to monitor and record how the respiratory muscles move during a performance. The garment can provide feedback in later performances, encouraging posture and breathing patterns ideal for performance.