2019 02 22

Lithuanian Smart Shirts Ready for Market

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Many various items of smart clothing have been developed globally, but according to experts, a real breakthrough is being prevented by a shortage of assessment algorithms. These algorithms need to do more than just register data – they also need to provide solutions for the user – provide recommendations as to what the user should do in a given situation. A team of Lithuanians has attempted to overcome this obstacle and create an algorithm that could assess the wearer’s situation in real-time and instruct them on how to make their workouts healthy and effective.

 The three-year projectSmartwear for Sports and Wellness (CareWare) was funded under Eureka, an international programme hosted by the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA). The project was carried out by the researchers of the Institute of Sport Science and Innovations at the Lithuanian Sports University (LSU), a team of mathematicians, IT specialists and textile specialists from Kaunas University of Technology and two companies – UAB Audimas and the software provider UAB Optitecha. The CareWare team’s international partners included companies from Belgium and France. The coordinator of the Lithuanian team is Professor Liudas Poderys. 

No Small Challenge 

As Dr. Kristina Poderienė, researcher and sports physiologist at the LSU Institute of Sport Science and Innovations explains, the aim of the project was to create or develop smart clothing systems that would allow the integration of various sensors that could react to different situations of use. For example, the French team was responsible for using smartwear to improve quality of life and healthcare for seniors, while the Belgian team was responsible for using it to improve the treatment and rehabilitation of severely ill patients, and the Lithuanian team focused on sports and wellness.

“The product we are creating is called a smart functional state and physical activity monitoring system and it is made up of two principal components: a smart shirt and software. Five electrodes are integrated in the shirt. They are made on the basis of a silver ion textile, and during periods of physical exertion, they register a relatively clean, i.e. high-quality, electrocardiogram (ECG) signal. This was truly a big challenge,” notes Dr. Poderienė, “Registering quality ECG signals is very difficult because the sensors also register muscle activity as the wearer moves. Their signals are stronger than that of the heart”.

KTU textile specialists, Audimas specialists and LSU sports physiologists worked together to solve the main questions: where electrodes should be integrated, what textiles should be used and what kind of electrode should be designed, so that they could register the best possible ECG signal and collect the relevant physical activity data. The team of KTU mathematicians looked for ways to extract useful information from a signal filled with noise by applying filtration and data assessment methods. 

 Individualised Workouts 

 Smart T-shirts use five integrated electrodes to register three ECG derivations and certain electrical impulses of the heart during exercise. These are then sent via a Bluetooth connection to the wearer’s phone. The software then processes and analyses the signal, providing the wearer with feedback in real time. This means that the wearer receives comprehensible instructions or recommendations about how they should move, for example, run faster or more slowly. If a dangerous situation arises, the software asks the user to decrease the intensity of their workout. If indicators continue to be poor, the user is asked to terminate the training session. If everything is fine, the wearer gets the message that they have achieved their daily workout goal.

 The recommendation is that the intensity and duration of a workout should be calibrated on an individual basis. This takes both the user’s physical condition into account as well as how they feel in the morning on a given day. For example, if the wearer has not had enough sleep, is tired or suffering from a cold, their workout should be less intense because otherwise their condition could be affected negatively. 

 According to Dr. Poderienė, such customised training sessions should go on until a certain number of heart contractions are reached. For example, if the user runs faster, the workout goal will be achieved in a shorter period of time; if they run more slowly, the pre-set number of heart contractions will be achieved over a longer period of time. 

Better Than Analogous Products

Compared to analogous products available on the market, the smart top created by the Lithuanian team guarantees a very high level of customizability. For example, the technology behind smart watches and heart rate monitors on the chestis based on registering the frequency of heart contractions, so the level of customizability is very low.

“We can tell whether a person is working out correctly based on their upper heart rate limit, which is calculated by subtracting their age from 220 – going past this upper limit is not recommended.If you want heart function to improve, you have to go over 50% of your heart rate reserve, i.e. the interval between resting state, for example, when sleeping or after you’ve just woken up in the morning, to the safe upper limit of your heart rate. If your heart rate reaches 70 to 85% of this reserve during a workout, then you will be getting the most training benefit from your exercise. Those are the recommendations,” explains the sports physiologist.

However, these numbers are averages. In individual cases, a person can be very well-trained or very weak, and there needs to be more customizability in training. Besides, these recommendations do not take into account the individual’s condition, which changes on a daily basis. Or in the case of professional athletes, the recommendations also do not take into account the necessity of adapting to a different geographic zone when competitions are held abroad. If an athlete begins to train intensely while they have not adapted to the new environment, they will only make the situation worse, slowing down the process of adaptation. So even in such situations, the new equipment allows an athlete’s condition to be monitored and assessed, ensuring that they compete at full capacity.

The system developed by the Lithuanian team can be used for assessing and correcting the exercise intensity for professional athletes in training and provide recommendations on how they should train. By using this equipment, the athlete could continually monitor their physical condition. Coaches and doctors could remotely access the software and observe in real time how their athlete is doing, provide recommendations and, in other words, more effectively control the effect of exercise intensity on the adaptation process.

The smart shirt has already attracted the interest of a Belgian company. The Lithuanian team has sent out its offer. Another strategic pathway, according to Dr. Poderienė, would be to start commercialising the product with Lithuanian partners. This would mean that they would need to ensure additional funding so that they could develop a cheaper heart rate meter. For this project, the heart rate meter was purchased from a German company, increasing the total cost of the system. This problem still requires a solution. Discussions are currently taking place between partners as to what course of action should be taken.

If the goal is to produce a surge in innovation, a potential idea or innovative product needs to find its investor – either in Lithuania or abroad – with as much ease as possible. This exact goal was set by OPEN R&D Lithuania, an open-access network that has brought together the country’s universities, national research institutes, science and technology parks as well as open access centres. As the largest innovation infrastructure, service and competence network in the Baltic states, it facilitates the meeting of Lithuanian researchers developing advanced technologies and entrepreneurs from Lithuania and beyond, encouraging their cooperation.

Members of the MITA-curated OPEN R&D Lithuania network provide services in the fields of engineering, IT, biomedicine, biotechnology, material science, physical and chemical technology, natural resources and agriculture. In order to help businesses find what they need among a vast array of R&D services, MITA set up the OPEN R&D Lithuania Contact Centre. It helps companies find the shortest route to a suitable partner from a research institution, gather information about where they can order the services they need and set up individual meetings. An emailed enquiry is enough to solicit an answer as to where a business should refer to next.

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