Today’s Solutions: June 12, 2024

Hearing loss is something many of us have to accept, with the fine and sensitive tools in our ears inevitably wearing down with age. What if you could remedy this by putting on a shirt that could hear for you?

Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and designers from the Rhode Island School of Design have made a fabric that could do the listening for you. 

How does it work? 

The fabric works like a microphone. The engineers employed a pliable piezoelectric material that converts vibrations into electrical signals and sewed this into the fabric, enabling it to pick up sound vibrations in the fabric normally too small for humans to notice. The fabric can pick up sounds as quiet as whispers in a library or the loud clamor of a concert. The fibers can also be designed to produce sound, enabling communication between fabrics and their wearers. 

The team put these listening fibers into a lightweight and washable material, lighter than denim but heavier than silk, and designed it to be adaptable and comfortable. 

Listening fabric applications 

The applications of this technology are seemingly as limitless as their applicator’s creativity. 

The developers of the fabric designed it to be pointed in a certain direction and pick up specific sounds for those with hearing impairments. One example could be listening to a speaker in a loud crowded audience. 

The fabric can also listen inward and pick up important minute-to-minute biometrics for individuals with health concerns. The team was able to pick up the variations of a volunteer’s heartbeat when they stitched a single fiber into their shirt just over the chest. Co-author Yoel Fink from MIT suggests using fabric like this in maternity wear to monitor a baby’s heartbeat while still in utero. 

The applications go far beyond that. Lead author Wei Yan, who helped develop the fabric as an MIT postdoc, envisions the fabric’s applications going into space. 

“It can be integrated with spacecraft skin to listen to (accumulating) space dust, or embedded into buildings to detect cracks or strains,” Yan proposes. “It can even be woven into a smart net to monitor fish in the ocean. The fiber is opening widespread opportunities.”

Source Study: The vest that can hear your heartbeat (nature.com)

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