Joint-Monitoring Fabric Gets NSF ‘Awesome Discoveries’ Shout-Out

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Computer scientist Xia Zhou has developed a low-cost, wearable motion-capture textile.

portrait of Xia Zhou, associate erofessor of computer science
Associate Professor of Computer Science Xia Zhou’s design of a wearable, low-cost, joint-monitoring smart fabric was highlighted in the NSF’s “Awesome Discoveries” YouTube channel. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00) 

A smart fabric developed at Dartmouth that can help athletes and physical therapy patients reduce arm injuries and accelerate recovery was highlighted in the National Science Foundation’s “4 Awesome Discoveries You Probably Didn’t Hear About This Week” social media campaign.

Created by Associate Professor of Computer Science Xia Zhou and the team in her Dartnets lab, the fabric-sensing system is a wearable, low-cost motion-capture textile that monitors joint rotation, making it ideal for athletes or for patients recuperating from injuries.

The NSF YouTube “4 Awesome Discoveries” episode shows how the off-the-shelf sensing fabric is fitted with a micro-controller that can be easily detached to transfer data and could be further miniaturized to “fit inside a button.”   

NSF screen shot
(NSF YouTube Channel) 

Zhou, who recently received the Association for Computing Machinery’s SIGMOBILE RockStar Award, says being highlighted in the NSF media campaign was a lot of fun.

“I think it was very well done. It explains a technical idea in a way that is accessible, so it is really helpful in promoting our research ideas to the public,” Zhou says. “I’m not really a social media person myself, but I forwarded it mainly to students in my lab and I think they all really enjoyed it.”

The paper on the research, published in Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies, will be presented at the UbiComp 2019 conference in London in September. 

Zhou and her team are excited about the possibilities for smart fabrics’ use to optimize performance and reduce injuries. While the prototype was tailored only for the elbow joint, it demonstrates the potential for monitoring the knee, shoulder, and other important joints, and could be available off the shelf for around $50, Zhou says.

“Testers even saw this for use in activities with high ranges of movement, like yoga or gymnastics. All participants said they’d be willing to purchase such a system for the relatively inexpensive price tag,” says Zhou.

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David Hirsch and Bill Platt