It’s never been easier and cheaper to sew small electronic components into wearable clothing.
In this issue of Futuris, we are diving into the world of smart textiles that help improve health and safety.
On a small fishing boat crossing a fjord near Trondheim in Norway the nets have to be checked for the overnight catch.
Eldar has been a professional fisherman for over 40 years.
It is one of the riskiest jobs, thousands of fishermen around the world lose their lives every year – mostly by falling overboard and drowning.
“When the weather is bad, when there’s strong wind, it’s easy to fall overboard. That happened to me, and to some people I knew who didn’t survive,” said Eldar Aukan.
“It’s easy to fall out, and very hard to get back – your clothes get heavy when they’re wet, and the water is very cold,” he added.
The fisherman has a manual remote control to stop the boat’s engine in case of an accident. Eldar has to remember to carry it with him at all times.
He also needs some means to alert rescuers and help him stay afloat if he falls overboard.
Integrating electronics into the protective outfit can make all these emergency tools wearable and impossible to forget.
At Trondheim’s swimming pool scientists are testing the first prototype of a smart safety vest, developed as part of a European Union research project.
It has sealed sensors that trigger a number of life-saving measures in case of an accident, including an inflating buoyant ‘lung’ and an alarm.
Hilde Færevik, Coordinator for the SAFE @ SEA project, demonstrated the vest: “You can see here on my colleague – he has the lung integrated here – it’s expanded, and on the top of the lung you have the “man overboard” alarm. Of course, a main topic of the project has been how you can integrate this electronics into the material.”
The design took a lot of research. The sensors need to be correctly placed to distinguish a submersion into the sea from an accidental splash of water or rain, and the inflatable “lung” has to keep the head safely above the water even in strong waves.
The smart outfit has an automatic radio transmitter that sends a short-range distress signal to the receiver unit onboard. That allows the system to stop the boat, alert the crew and send the coordinates to the rescue services.
“It’s the intention that the receiver unit is mounted high on the mast of the boat,” said Håkon V. Døvre, Power Electronics Engineer from Delta Alarm.
“The signal from the victim will then radiate in all directions and will be picked up by the antenna here. It also has a GPS antenna that can send the information to the emergency centre.”
Making the technology reliable is not enough, the protective outfit needs to be comfortable to work in and easy to clean – or else fishermen will not use it.
“This is a first prototype, it’s kind of big now, it will be smaller and more flexible, just a comfortable part of the whole clothing – so that the fisherman will not notice that it is here actually,” added Hilde Færevik.
To ensure better functionality, comfort and safety, the fabric for the next generation of fishermen’s protective clothing needs to be reinvented.
That is a task being undertaken at the SINTEF chemical lab.