Home MIT Creates Cloth That Listens

MIT Creates Cloth That Listens

Cloth sensors could make the Internet of Things fashionable.

MIT scientists announced this week that they have created a new kind of fiber capable of detecting and emitting sound. “Throughout their history a key premise has remained essentially unchanged,” the research team wrote in Nature Materials, “fibres are static devices, incapable of controllably changing their properties over a wide range of frequencies.”

Professor Yoel Fink and team says they’ve upended that history and have developed a process for making fiber that can act like a microphone or a speaker. As with any new type of sensor, the platform possibilities are intriguing – the degree of personal intimacy (pants with patience, shirts that sass you back) makes this particularly potent.

The shirt that knew too much: Cozy, no?

“Applications could include clothes that are themselves sensitive microphones for capturing speech or monitoring bodily functions, and tiny filaments that could measure blood flow in capillaries or pressure in the brain,” says MIT’s Press Office. AFP coverage of this was the first we saw.

If my clothes are listening to me, I want to be very sure I know to whom they are repeating what they hear.

Where there are sensors, there is data – and where there is data there is analysis, actionable thresholds and functional mashups across data sets and technologies. In this case, that could look like clothes with awareness of ambient sound and a user’s physiological state. Put that data on a usable web interface and the Internet of Things starts feeling

closer to the heart

than ever before.

We wrote this Spring about 10 Smart Clothes You’ll Be Wearing Soon, but Fink’s creation may be the smartest of the smart clothes bunch.

All this instrumentation of personal items and objects is going to require some serious deliberation over privacy policies and standards. If my clothes are listening to me, I want to be very sure I know to whom they are repeating what they hear. That conversation has barely begun.

Fink’s research was supported by MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). So you can be sure that consumer privacy rights are somewhere on everyone’s agenda. Scientists, of course, are only in charge of creating clothes that can hear – not deciding when they should listen.

Photo: Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT/Greg Hren

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