Page last updated at 12:06 GMT, Monday, 1 June 2009 13:06 UK

Hi-tech clothes to help elderly

Two older people sitting on a bench watching the sea
The clothes could monitor body temperature or provide bus information

Housecoats and electronics are set to meet in a research project led by Northern Ireland academics.

University of Ulster researchers are examining how hi-tech clothing could improve the lives of older people.

The three-year project could see electronic devices built in to clothing that could provide information ranging from heart rate to bus timetables.

The research, funded by the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme, is driven by teams from several UK universities.

The University of Ulster's Computer Science Research Institute has been doing work on assistive technologies for independent living and healthcare monitoring.

Its director, Professor Bryan Scotney, said they would be looking at sensor technologies.

"This project is particularly exciting as we will be working with partners with complementary expertise that will enable our research in sensor technologies, data fusion and intelligent data analysis to have a real impact on people's everyday lives," he said.

Lifestlyles

The team at the UU includes Dr Eric Wallace, Director of the Sport and Exercise Research Institute.

He said they were at the forefront of examining active lifestyles.

"Essentially, once the data on the movements of older people is recorded, it is then passed to SESRI and we will make sense of it in a lifestyle capacity," he said.

"This information can then in turn be used by those developing the garments, to understand better the most effective usage of the technology in the clothing."

An important aspect of the work will be making the technology user-friendly as well as the clothing comfortable.

It is thought that the technology could have benefits as diverse as monitoring temperature in the home and automatically adjusting the thermostat, to even providing a life-saving tool by alerting a GP or relative if heart rate drops.

The University of Wales is also involved in the project through its Smart Clothes and Wearable Technology team.

Director Jane McCann said the merger of textiles and electronics marked "the beginning of a new industrial revolution".

"Little has been done to address the design requirements of older wearers in terms of human factors such as sizing, fit, predominant posture, thermal regulation, moisture management, protection and the psychological 'feel good factor'," she said.

"This project will develop a shared 'language' to enhance communication between older wearers and bring together the traditional clothing and textile designers with electronics and healthcare experts."



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