Low-cost integration technologies for next generation wearable devices

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Federico, Andrea
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University College Cork
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In recent years, the commercial and research interest in the development of textile based products incorporating embedded micro-electronic elements, such as sensors, microcontrollers batteries etc., also known as e-textiles, has grown considerably. This has resulted in significant progress in researching new methods of electronics integration and the utilisation of wearable systems in a variety of applications in different fields. However, despite the results obtained to date, the requirements associated with e-textile applications, such as being lightweight, small in size, and stretchable still present a significant engineering challenge and topic of interest to the research community. Moreover, due to their close contact with the human body, the design of e-textile devices must consider several aspects related to the user experience associated with such wearable systems. As a consequence, freedom of movement, non-intrusiveness and overall comfortability must be guaranteed to ensure uptake of the technology in a consumer product setting. Over the past decade, a variety of strategies for textile electronics integration have been investigated and developed by the research community. New strategies for the use of conductive materials have been developed to replace the use of traditional conductive wires or cables and thus improve system wearability and durability, since the presence of cables can restrict body movements and prevent the execution of specific physical tasks. Such novel materials are increasingly accessible to system designers in the form of conductive threads, fabrics and inks which open up new opportunities for wearable electronic systems. There are different methods of integrating rigid and flexible electronic components into/onto textiles for the development of wearable e-textile systems, including chemical, physical and mechanical strategies. In this work, we present a review of the state of the art in the research literature as well as in commercially available products regarding the main integration strategies available to system designers. Moreover, an evaluation of and performance’s analysis of novel conductive materials is presented, as well as an implementation of a low-cost integration technique for e-textiles and wearable sensing systems. As a proof of concept and validation activity, two system demonstrators are presented: a full-body suit which is able to capture the EMG signals coming from the lower body through conductive traces; and an inflatable cuff embedding standard electronic modules with integrated sensing actuation and communication developed as a medical device. Both the demonstrators integrate flexible substrates electronic components, sensors and power supplies. Future work will involve further testing on the reliability of the low-cost integration technique presented in Chapter 3 and, furthermore, the integration of flexible electronics and sensors onto the demonstrator smart compression system medical device, allowing for better monitoring of the wounds status and, therefore, better evaluation of the healing process associated with the use of compression bandages in a clinical setting.
Wearable , Wearable electronics , Flexible electronics , Textile electronics integration , Conductive materials , Interconnections , Health care , Medical device
Federico, A. 2023. Low-cost integration technologies for next generation wearable devices. MSc Thesis, University College Cork.
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