Real sportswear: the new “OmniFibers” material “trains” you to breathe like professional athletes

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts – Sportswear is entering a new era thanks to smart technology. New fabric that “registers” muscle movements as you breathe could allow for better training and faster recovery from respiratory illnesses. The fibers of the fabric, nicknamed OmniFibers, register the breathing of high performance athletes. When worn by others, it moves to the pace of the pros, allowing wearers to mimic the breathing pattern of the professional athlete.

Likewise, the fabric, developed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, could help train singers. As the garment stretches and compresses using patterns from top artists, others can wear the fabric to train via the professional singer’s breathing pattern. More importantly, the tissue could also help patients recovering from major surgeries or respiratory illnesses such as COVID, scientists say.

OmniFibers are extremely narrow in size and made from affordable materials. They are also perfectly safe to use on human skin, as the outer layer is made of a polyester-like material commonly used to make clothing.

“The downsides of most existing man-made muscle fibers are that they are either thermally activated, which can cause overheating when used in contact with human skin, or that they have low energy efficiency or process efficiency. strenuous training. These systems often have slow response and recovery times, which limits their immediate use in applications that require rapid feedback, ”study author Ozgun Afsar, doctoral student at MIT, said in a statement.

Resembling a strand of yarn, the fiber has five layers and contains a fluid channel in the center. This channel acts like an “artificial muscle”, with sensors capable of detecting and measuring the degree of stretching of the fibers. A type of undergarment, which singers can wear to monitor and restore the movement of their breathing, was designed by researchers to test their new fabric.

“Singing is particularly close to where I live, because my mother is an opera singer, she is a soprano. I really wanted to capture this expertise in tangible form, ”says Afsar.

Data was collected from the garment’s sensors while the singer performed. It was then turned into tactile feedback, which could be used to teach untrained singers to mimic the singer’s breathing pattern. The same approach could be used to help athletes learn to control their breathing.

“We were finally able to achieve both the detection and the modes of actuation we wanted in textiles, record and replay the complex movements that we could capture from the physiology of an expert singer and transpose them to a body. of a non-singer, of a novice learner, ”says Afsar. “So we not only capture this knowledge from an expert, but we are able to transfer it haptically to someone who is learning.”

“Everyone has to breathe. Breathing has a major impact on productivity, confidence and performance. More importantly, good breathing can help when recovering from surgery or depression. For example, breathing is so important for meditation, ”notes lead author Professor Hiroshi Ishii, director of the Tangible Media Group and associate director of the MIT Media Lab.

The physiology of breathing is quite complex and identifying which muscles are used for breathing remains a challenge to this day. To address this issue, researchers have designed a separate module that monitors the wearer’s muscle groups as they breathe in and out. But their system could also be used to study other types of muscle movement and activity, the researchers said.

“A lot of our artists have studied amazing calligraphy, but I want to feel the dynamics of the brushstroke, which could be accomplished with a sleeve and glove made of this closed-loop feedback material. Olympic athletes could hone their skills by wearing clothing that mimics the movements of a top athlete, whether a weightlifter or a skier, ”Ishii adds.

A manufacturing system capable of producing longer filaments is already on the horizon, along with other technical improvements. The results were presented at the Association for Computing Machinery Software and User Interface Technologies online conference.

South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.

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