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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK


Smart baby suit checks for cot death

The suit keeps all the sensors in the right place

Scientists have developed a hi-tech baby suit to help monitor very young children who may be at risk from sudden infant death syndrome.

The outfit, featured on the BBC's Tomorrow's World science programme, has built-in sensors that keep a check on the baby's health, including temperature, heart rate and breathing.

After years of research, doctors have yet to solve the riddle of so-called cot death, beyond identifying a number of danger factors such as parental smoking and the baby's sleeping position.

The phenomenon claims the lives of about 500 babies a year in the UK alone, and researchers worldwide are currently developing a range of devices they hope will pick up any warning signs.

[ image: The baby suit is a version of a smart T-shirt developed for military use]
The baby suit is a version of a smart T-shirt developed for military use
At the Georgia Institute of Technology, US, this has led to the development of a smart T-shirt that contains a web of wiring that is capable of monitoring a number of vital signs at once.

It is a major step forward on the current, very simple belt devices that are fitted to many babies. Parents complain that their children find these belts uncomfortable. Their confidence can also suffer because of frequent false alarms that are triggered when the straps work loose and the sensors break their contacts.

The smart T-shirt's stretchable fabric holds the sensors firmly in place - the elastic fibres are even used to measure breathing.

The wearable motherboard, as it is called, was originally developed at Georgia Tech's School of Textile and Fiber Engineering for use in a war zone. The T-shirt is capable of recording bullet wounds and blast injuries and transmitting the information to military medics monitoring troops from a safe distance.

The baby suit is just one of many possible applications of the same technology. Versions could also be designed to monitor post-operative patients, astronauts in space and even athletes in training. It is thought the baby suit, when fully developed, could sell for around £20.

The smart baby suit is featured on BBC One's Tomorrow's World programme - Wednesday, 20 October, 1930 BST

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