By Doug O'Neill
Hospital bed sheets that alert staff to sudden changes in body temperature. Underwear that relays heartbeat and blood pressure levels. Mats and carpets in people’s houses that communicate changing gaits and mobility challenges of patients recovering at home. Sensor-embedded sleeves that stimulate muscles and nerves in paraplegics. Smart bras with built-in accelerometer, gyroscope, and a heart rate monitor.
The common element to these futuristic-sounding apparatuses – which are in fact available and in use across Canada today – is straightforward: textiles. They’re at the very heart of what’s known as Textile Computing.
Dan Herman, vice-president of Strategy and Partnerships for Etobicoke-based Myant Inc., describes Textile Computing as “the connection between the human operating system – the body's data – and the world around us.”
“We have smartphones, smart appliances, and we’re moving toward smart cities. We’re are surrounded by millions if not billions of devices connected to each other – yet they’ve been largely disconnected from us, as human beings. Connecting the human body to this digital world represents the last mile for Big Data and the Internet of Things,” said Herman.
Textile Computing, according to Herman, is the piece of the puzzle that will incorporate human beings into the equation.
“Textiles – namely the clothes we wear – are ubiquitous in society and have been around since almost the beginning,” says Herman. “Nearly 100% of the population wears them, and by virtue of their use in everything from car seats to bed sheets, textiles can provide nearly 100% coverage of the body, 100% of the time, allowing for the development of a true understanding of what's going on in our bodies on a 24-hour cycle. The implications for health care, performance sports and every day wellness are immense.”
In 2010, Myant Inc. identified textiles as “the form factor that would connect humans to the Internet of Things,” explains Herman. “Since then we have been developing and assembling the technology – such as our proprietary SKIIN technology – and multidisciplinary team in order to create the world’s first Textile Computing platform.” The 55-person team – a diverse group of engineers, chemists, physicists, scientists and fashion designers – operates out of Myant’s 80,000 square-foot facility in Etobicoke. “We doubled our team in 2017 and predict we’ll do the same in 2018.”
Herman explains the huge potential for Textile Computing in healthcare in Canada: “What we offer our partners is beyond the wristband technology that gives people readings on their heart beat. With sensors strategically – and seamlessly – placed on various parts of an individual’s body, healthcare professionals can get readings remotely. Consider the case of someone who’s at home recovering from surgery. Sensors embedded in textiles on their body will indicate if the individual hasn’t drunk enough water – prompting a reminder. Someone recovering from a hip operation gets up in the morning and walks across one of our special mats embedded with pressure sensors. Foot contact with the mat instantly communicates if they’re walking properly – and alerts the healthcare team if they’ve fallen. This remote monitoring enables more Canadians to recover and heal in their homes – saving millions of dollars in healthcare costs.”
The Myant team calls it a “digital second skin.”
Myant’s proprietary smart-clothing brand is called SKIIN. “Our products are designed with a mix of sensors and actuators that enable holistic insight into the wearer’s physical and mental state,” says Tony Chahine, CEO and founder of Myant Inc. “SKIIN is the first product that is truly wearable, creating the opportunity for a connection that’s 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. Clients, from a variety of industries, are interested in utilizing our SKIIN technology, and we’re able to tailor that technology to their products.”
“Myant’s work is at the intersection of advances in both material science and advanced manufacturing, making Toronto a natural place to build and scale this new category we call Textile Computing,” says Chahine. “Our partners at the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, as well as corporate partners like Celestica, provide an ecosystem of talent, ideas and capacity that aren’t available elsewhere. We have an opportunity to build a transformative new industry headquartered right here.”
Photo credit Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real