Picture this: you put on your favorite T-shirt to go out for a jog and then connect it to your phone to monitor your breathing. Believe it or not, this imaginary scenario could soon become part of our everyday life, thanks to a brilliant invention called acoustic fabric.
With the help of the Rhode Island School of Design, a team of MIT engineers created a new fiber with a remarkable feature. It can pick up acoustic signals from the environment (e.g., your heartbeat) and transform them into electrical ones, basically acting as a microphone.
Another interesting detail is that the function can be shifted, so the fiber also reproduces sound instead of just detecting it — like a speaker. In this case, the acoustic fiber transforms electrical signals into mechanical vibrations, which are then picked up by a second fiber.
The main idea was to weave the acoustic fibers with the right kind of yarn so as to maximize the conversion of sound waves by the fabric. However, this wasn’t the only criterion.
Since it’s meant for everyday use and implies direct contact with the skin, the fabric also has to be drapable, washable, and comfortable to wear.
According to the team, the pragmatic potential of the invention is astonishing. For example, clothes made of acoustic fabrics could allow people with cardiovascular ailments to monitor their heart rate and breathing, or pregnant women to monitor the same in their babies.
Acoustic wear could also assist hearing-impaired individuals by making it easier for them to detect incoming phone calls or by muffling the cacophony of traffic or crowds while amplifying conversation partners’ voices.
Unsurprisingly, this type of fiber could gain practical significance when incorporated into other items as well, e.g., spacecraft, fishing equipment, or even building materials.
All this means that this fiber could one day play a wildly diverse range of roles in our lives, the most crucial ones being safety improvement and health maintenance.