Technology is at its best when it’s non-intrusive to our usual habits — when it enhances life, rather than distracts from it. Compare a so-called portable computer from the early ’80s (it took a strong back or a mule train to hoist and carry from place to place and wasn’t really a “laptop” because you probably needed a sturdy desk to hold its weight) to the smartphone of today (that can fit comfortably in a pocket), for instance. In similar comparison, the portable computer from the ’80s was a real evolution from the stationary computers of prior decades that were larger than refrigerators and relatively rudimentary in function.
As we consumers enjoy the benefits of advancing technology, there are engineers and developers who are dreaming ahead and striving to bring us closer to the world of tomorrow, today (in exchange for a tidy sum, of course). In 30 years, will we look back on the smartphone of the ’10s as being a quaint, but bulky bit of intrusion that we’ll marvel over from the comfort of our chip-implanted brains that never need to be externally carried, charged, or changed beyond the occasional software upgrade?
In even the most modern hospital, wires, sensors, tubes, and machines of various sizes crisscross the landscape in a tangled mess that is not only an eyesore, but potentially dangerous when clumsy people like me are near and able to disassemble a life support system simply by tripping over a stray commode, power cord, or table leg. But scientists at la Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) are working toward a simpler way of monitoring patients so that they’re not at the mercy of interfaces that trip people by developing what amounts to an intelligent t-shirt. This fancy strip of torso garb keeps tabs on a patient’s heart rate, temperature, and other vital signs as well as their position inside of the hospital itself with a GPS-like system that functions in closed spaces. This intelligent t-shirt can also detect the patient’s position — if they’re sitting, lying down, standing, walking, or running.
While it was designed with a hospital setting in mind, the intelligent t-shirt can be modified for other uses — from detecting cardiac anomalies in performing athletes, telemedicine, and home monitoring to law enforcement purposes that will probably make privacy advocates nervous.
The team’s findings, LOBIN: E-Textile and Wireless-Sensor-Network-Based Platform for Healthcare Monitoring in Future Hospital Environments, were published in IEEE Transactions on Information Technology in Biomedicine (full text for subscribers and IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] members, but an abstract is otherwise available).