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Publication numberUS20070089800 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 11/534,736
Publication dateApr 26, 2007
Filing dateSep 25, 2006
Priority dateOct 24, 2005
Also published asWO2007050650A2, WO2007050650A3
Publication number11534736, 534736, US 2007/0089800 A1, US 2007/089800 A1, US 20070089800 A1, US 20070089800A1, US 2007089800 A1, US 2007089800A1, US-A1-20070089800, US-A1-2007089800, US2007/0089800A1, US2007/089800A1, US20070089800 A1, US20070089800A1, US2007089800 A1, US2007089800A1
InventorsVikram Sharma
Original AssigneeSensatex, Inc.
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Fabrics and Garments with Information Infrastructure
US 20070089800 A1
Abstract
Fabrics, articles of apparel, and/or garment structures include infrastructure for transmitting information, such as signals produced by a wearer or from another source. Such fabrics may include: a textile formed through a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting or weaving process is electrically conductive to form sensor regions and/or other integrated electrically conductive infrastructure for transmitting electrical signals. Additional information is provided relating to methods for forming fabrics, articles of apparel, and/or garment structures of the types described above, as well as methods of using such products, e.g., for monitoring and/or displaying information regarding one or more physical and/or physiological parameters.
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Claims(10)
1. An article of apparel, comprising a textile forming at least a portion of the article of apparel, wherein the textile is formed through a knitting process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting process is electrically conductive to form an integrated electrically conductive infrastructure for transmitting electrical signals.
2. A fabric, comprising a textile formed through a knitting process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting process is electrically conductive to form an integrated electrically conductive infrastructure for transmitting electrical signals.
3. A garment, comprising a garment structure formed, at least in part, through a knitting process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting process is electrically conductive, and wherein the garment structure includes:
(a) a first sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the first sensor region, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn is positioned and arranged with respect to the garment structure to receive a first electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source; and
(b) a first lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the first lead in electrical communication with and extending from the first sensor region to carry the first electrical signal from the first sensor region to a first sensor data transfer region.
4. A physical or physiological monitoring system, comprising:
a garment structure formed, at least in part, through a knitting process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting process is electrically conductive, and wherein the garment structure includes:
(a) a first sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the first sensor region, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn is positioned and arranged with respect to the garment structure to receive a first electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source; and
(b) a first lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the first lead in electrical communication with and extending from the first sensor region to carry the first electrical signal from the first sensor region;
a data transfer system for receiving the first electrical signal and transferring a first information signal, wherein the first information signal includes at least one of the first electrical signal or information derived, at least in part, from the first electrical signal; and
a physical or physiological monitoring output device for receiving the first information signal and outputting physical or physiological data or information, wherein the physical or physiological data or information includes at least one of the first information signal or data derived, at least in part, from the first information signal.
5. A method for forming a garment, comprising:
knitting at least a portion of a garment structure, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting is electrically conductive, wherein the knitting includes:
(a) knitting a concentration of electrically conductive yarn to form a knitted first sensor region in the garment structure, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn is positioned and arranged in the garment structure to receive a first electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source; and
(b) knitting a first lead from electrically conductive yarn in the garment structure, wherein the first lead is in electrical communication with and extends from the first sensor region to carry the first electrical signal from the first sensor region; and
providing a first sensor data transfer region on the garment structure for receiving the first electrical signal.
6. A method of monitoring a physical or physiological parameter, comprising:
donning a garment structure, wherein the garment structure is formed, at least in part, through a knitting process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting process is electrically conductive, and wherein the garment structure includes:
(a) a first sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the first sensor region; and
(b) a first lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the first lead in electrical communication with and extending from the first sensor region;
receiving a first electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source at the first sensor region; and
transmitting the first electrical signal along the first lead.
7. A fabric, comprising a fabric structure formed, at least in part, through a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting or weaving process is electrically conductive, and wherein the fabric structure includes one or more sensor regions, wherein at least one sensor region includes:
(a) a sensor element integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at a location of the sensor region; and
(b) a lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process, the lead in electrical communication with and extending from the sensor element to carry an electrical signal from the sensor region.
8. A physical or physiological monitoring system, comprising:
a fabric structure formed, at least in part, through a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting or weaving process is electrically conductive, and wherein the fabric structure includes one or more sensor regions, wherein at least one sensor region includes:
(a) a sensor element integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at a location of the sensor region, and
(b) a lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process, the lead in electrical communication with and extending from the sensor element to carry an electrical signal from the sensor region;
a data transfer system for receiving electrical signals from the sensor regions and transferring a first information signal, wherein the first information signal includes at least one of the electrical signals from one or more sensor regions or information derived, at least in part, from the electrical signals from one or more sensor regions; and
a physical or physiological monitoring output device for receiving the first information signal and outputting physical or physiological data or information, wherein the physical or physiological data or information includes at least one of the first information signal or data derived, at least in part, from the first information signal.
9. A method for forming a fabric, comprising:
forming a fabric structure by a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the forming is electrically conductive, wherein the forming includes:
(a) forming a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at one or more regions in the fabric structure to form one or more integrated sensor regions in the fabric structure, and
(b) forming one or more lead elements from electrically conductive yarn in the fabric structure, wherein each respective sensor region includes a respective lead element that is in electrical communication with and extends from the sensor region to carry an electrical signal from the respective sensor region; and
providing at least one sensor data transfer region on the fabric structure for receiving at least some of the electrical signals.
10. A method of monitoring a physical or physiological parameter, comprising:
providing a fabric structure, wherein the fabric structure is formed, at least in part, through a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting or weaving process is electrically conductive, and wherein the fabric structure includes one or more sensor regions, wherein at least one sensor region includes:
(a) a sensor element integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at a location of the sensor region, and
(b) a lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process, the lead in electrical communication with and extending from the sensor element to carry an electrical signal from the sensor region;
receiving at least one electrical signal from at least one sensor region; and
transmitting the electrical signal along the respective lead or leads associated with the sensor region or regions received the electrical signal.
Description

This application claims priority benefits based on U.S. Provisional Patent Appln. No. 60/729,764 filed Oct. 24, 2005. This prior application is entirely incorporated herein by reference.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to fabric and garment systems that include an integrated infrastructure for monitoring the vital signs of an individual and/or for other monitoring purposes. Aspects of the invention concern, in at least some examples, a fabric or garment structure that includes an integrated information infrastructure, e.g., as part of the yarn included in the weave or stitch of the fabric structure, for collecting, processing, transmitting, and/or receiving information.

BACKGROUND

Significant efforts have been expended to develop garment systems incorporating electrodes for monitoring the condition of the wearer, such as EKG or conductive fibers for electromagnetic screening. As examples, U.S. Pat. No. 4,668,545 to Lowe and U.S. Pat. No. 5,103,504 to Dordevic disclose fabrics including conductive fibers for electromagnetic screening and for protecting a wearer from magnetic radiation. Each of these patents is entirely incorporated herein by reference.

Conventional physiological monitoring systems may include a belt that is worn around a chest of an individual. Such systems may have inherent difficulty in achieving a desired level of comfort and ergonomics. An improvement on this conventional physiological monitoring system involves incorporating a monitoring system into a shirt, particularly a T-shirt, which resulted in greater comfort and a more user-friendly interface. Though a few systems are available commercially, they appear to be a patch-work integration of components for physiological monitoring (sensors, connectors, attachments, etc.) on a surface of the shirt. Furthermore, shirts with physiological monitoring capability generally are built via a cut and sew operation and may lack a sensor or electrode for picking-up electrical signals from the skin.

One limitation relating to current technologies relates to sticky electrode-based systems. Such systems include sticky sensors that may be uncomfortable and may hurt when removed due to the glue utilized to attach the sensor to the skin. The sticky sensors also may have many mechanical junctions that are not desirable for data transmission continuity. A garment system that provides junctions to attach leads from an electrode to the garment network also may have limitations on applicability and data integrity. The issue of connection of the sensor system to the network is still prevalent. The sensor used in such a system may have to be sticky to hold on to the skin, which requires glue and may hurt when removed due to the glue. Garments with electrode systems that are directly attached on the garment fabric surface also require mechanical and/or chemical connection systems. The electrode is kept in direct contact with the skin of the body by the garment construction. The connection is between the electrode and the integrated conductive network to relay data from the electrode to the controller. Mechanical or chemical connectors typically are required to make a connection (electrical) between the sensor and the data network.

In a weaving process, two sets of yarns, respectively known as warp and filling (or weft) yarns, are interlaced at right angles to one another on a weaving machine or loom. Traditional weaving technologies typically produce a two-dimensional fabric. Fashioning a three-dimensional garment from such a woven fabric typically requires cutting and sewing of the fabric. Tubular weaving is a special variation of traditional weaving in which a fabric tube is produced on the loom. However, tubular weaving is not traditionally used to produce a full-fashioned woven garment, such as shirt, because this procedure was unable to accommodate discontinuities in the garment, such as armholes, without requiring cutting and sewing. This was addressed to some extent in U.S. Pat. No. 6,145,551 to Jayaraman, et al. This patent addressed a need that existed for a process to produce a full-fashioned woven garment that eliminated the need for cutting and sewing fabric parts to fashion the garment, especially a shirt, except for the attachment of sleeves and rounding or finishing of the neck for the shirt. It is to the provision of such a process and product to which that invention was primarily directed. This U.S. Patent is entirely incorporated herein by reference.

Efforts have been made previously to create fabrics and garments that incorporate electrodes for monitoring a condition of the wearer, such as EKG, or conductive fibers for electromagnetic screening.

U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,381,482; 6,145,551; and 6,474,367 to Jayaraman et al. disclose fabrics or garments that include an integrated infrastructure for collecting, processing, transmitting, and receiving information. These garments function as a “wearable motherboard,” which, by utilizing the interconnection of the electrical conductive fibers, integrates many data-collecting sensors into the garment without the need for multiple stand-alone wires or cables. The information may be transmitted to several monitoring devices through a single electronic lead or transceiver. Furthermore, these patents elaborate on the need for a wearable garment having an integrated information flexible infrastructure that is used for collecting, processing, transmitting, and receiving information concerning a wearer of the garment. Each of these patents also is entirely incorporated herein by reference.

A problem with existing physiological monitoring devices is that even when available they are not used. There are three major causes for the non-use of existing cardiorespiratory monitors. First, most of the electrodes used to record the vital signs are rubberized electrode patches that are placed on the user's chest and are held in place by hook-and-loop type belt fasteners applied over the patches. These hook-and-look type belts are difficult to apply. If not applied properly, the belt and/or electrodes can irritate the user's skin (sometimes to the point of blistering and even bleeding) or can become loose and fall off. Second, these cardiorespiratory monitors also can trigger false alarms. Lastly, caregivers and users are reluctant to use the devices in at least some scenarios because they believe that the protruding wires that go from the sensors on the body to the monitoring equipment can be dangerous. Furthermore, there also is a need to make the system conformable while still holding the garment in close proximity to the skin of the wearer.

Therefore, there exists a need for physical and/or physiological monitoring systems and methods that overcome the problems with using existing hook-and-loop fastener belts to hold sensors in place on infants, first responders, hospital patients, or others for monitoring cardiorespiratory and/or other functions and parameters.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to fabric and/or garment structures that include infrastructure for transmitting information, such as electrical signals produced by a human or other animal body (or signals received from some other source). Such fabrics may include, for example: a textile formed through a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting or weaving process is electrically conductive and used to form an integrated electrically conductive infrastructure for transmitting electrical signals into the fabric structure. The textile may form at least a portion of an article of apparel, blanket, or other fabric structure, and in some instances, it may completely form an article of apparel, blanket, or other fabric structure (e.g., as a one piece construction, optionally in a seamless or substantially seamless construction).

Fabrics and/or articles of apparel according to at least some examples of this invention may include one or more sensor regions, wherein each sensor region includes: (a) a sensor element integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at a location of the sensor element; and (b) a lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process, the lead in electrical communication with and extending from the sensor element to carry an electrical signal from the sensor element. The lead may form at least a portion of the electrically conductive infrastructure mentioned above.

Additional aspects of this invention relate to physical or physiological parameter monitoring systems that utilize fabrics and/or garments of the types described above. As more specific examples, physical or physiological monitoring systems in accordance with at least some examples of this invention may include: (a) a fabric structure, such as a garment, formed, at least in part, through a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting or weaving process is electrically conductive, and wherein the fabric structure includes one or more sensor regions, wherein each sensor region includes: (i) a sensor element integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at a location of the sensor element, and (ii) a lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process, the lead in electrical communication with and extending from the sensor element to carry an electrical signal from the sensor element; (b) a data transfer system for receiving electrical signals from the sensor regions and transferring a first information signal, wherein the first information signal includes at least one of the electrical signal(s) from one or more sensor regions or information derived, at least in part, from the electrical signal(s) from one or more sensor regions; and (c) a physical or physiological monitoring output device for receiving the first information signal and outputting physical or physiological data or information, wherein the physical or physiological data or information includes at least one of the first information signal or data derived, at least in part, from the first information signal.

Any desired type of fabric or garment structures may be provided without departing from this invention. In at least some examples, the fabric will be formed into a blanket having a plurality of sensing regions disposed therein, e.g., in a grid pattern, for a crib, baby bed, hospital or hospice bed, assisted living facility, etc. In other examples, the fabric will be formed into a garment for any desired portion of a human body, such as upper torso garments (such as T-shirts, etc.); bra type garments (such as sports bras, etc.); leotards; tight or form-fitting type garments for the upper torso, lower torso, portions of both, or the full body, etc. (e.g., wherein at least some of the yarn in the fabric structure includes a spandex or other elastically deformable component, etc.); hospital gowns; diapers or incontinence garments; and the like. The sensor regions may be provided at any desired locations on the fabric or garment structure, including one or more of its front, back, sides, shoulder tops, chest, etc. of the garment structure. The sensor regions may be arranged so as to receive electrical signals or other signals generated by a wearer's body or other sources, such as EKG signals, heart rate signals, pulse rate signals, blood pressure signals, respiratory signals, brain wave signals, light exposure signals, other radiation exposure signals, moisture presence signals, etc. In some more specific utilities, fabrics and garments according to examples of the invention may be useful for monitoring various physical or physiological parameters associated with or displayed by firefighters or other first responders, athletes, hospital or hospice patients, assisted living patients, infants, etc.

Still additional features and aspects of this invention relate to methods for forming fabrics, articles of apparel, and/or garment structures of types described above, as well as to methods of using such products, e.g., for monitoring and/or displaying information regarding one or more physical and/or physiological parameters associated with a user of the fabric or garment.

The invention includes at least the following embodiments:

1. An article of apparel, comprising:

a textile forming at least a portion of the article of apparel, wherein the textile is formed through a knitting process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting process is electrically conductive to form an integrated electrically conductive infrastructure for transmitting electrical signals.

2. An article of apparel according to embodiment 1, wherein the textile further includes a first sensor region integrated into the textile during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the first sensor region, wherein the first sensor region is in electrical communication with at least a portion of the electrically conductive infrastructure.

3. An article of apparel according to embodiment 2, wherein the first sensor region is positioned and arranged with respect to the article of apparel to receive a first electrical signal from a wearer's body.

4. An article of apparel according to embodiment 2, wherein the integrated electrically conductive infrastructure includes a first lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the first lead in electrical communication with and extending from the first sensor region to carry electrical signals from the first sensor region to a first sensor data transfer region.

5. An article of apparel according to embodiment 1, wherein the textile completely forms the article of apparel as a one-piece construction.

6. An article of apparel according to embodiment 1, wherein the textile completely forms the article of apparel as a seamless construction.

7. A fabric, comprising:

a textile formed through a knitting process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting process is electrically conductive to form an integrated electrically conductive infrastructure for transmitting electrical signals.

8. A fabric according to embodiment 7, wherein the textile further includes a first sensor region integrated into the textile during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the first sensor region, wherein the first sensor region is in electrical communication with at least a portion of the electrically conductive infrastructure.

9. A fabric according to embodiment 8, wherein the integrated electrically conductive infrastructure includes a first lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the textile during the knitting process, the first lead in electrical communication with and extending from the first sensor region to carry electrical signals from the first sensor region to a first sensor data transfer region.

10. A garment, comprising:

a garment structure formed, at least in part, through a knitting process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting process is electrically conductive, and wherein the garment structure includes:

    • (a) a first sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the first sensor region, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn is positioned and arranged with respect to the garment structure to receive a first electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source; and
    • (b) a first lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the first lead in electrical communication with and extending from the first sensor region to carry the first electrical signal from the first sensor region to a first sensor data transfer region.

11. A garment according to embodiment 10, wherein the garment structure is an upper torso garment.

12. A garment according to embodiment 10, wherein at least some of the yarn in the garment structure includes a spandex component.

13. A garment according to embodiment 10, wherein the first sensor region is on a front chest area of the garment structure.

14. A garment according to embodiment 10, wherein the garment structure further includes:

(a) a second sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the second sensor region, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn for the second sensor region is positioned and arranged to receive a second electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source; and

(b) a second lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the second lead in electrical communication with and extending from the second sensor region to carry the second electrical signal from the second sensor region to a second sensor data transfer region.

15. A garment according to embodiment 10, wherein the garment structure further includes:

(a) a second sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the second sensor region, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn for the second sensor region is positioned and arranged with respect to the garment structure to receive a second electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source; and

(b) a second lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the second lead in electrical communication with and extending from the second sensor region to carry the second electrical signal from the second sensor region to the first sensor data transfer region.

16. A garment according to embodiment 10, wherein the garment structure further includes:

(a) a second sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the second sensor region, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn for the second sensor region is positioned and arranged with respect to the garment structure to receive the first electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source; and

(b) a second lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the second lead in electrical communication with and extending from the second sensor region to carry the first electrical signal from the second sensor region to the first sensor data transfer region.

17. A garment according to embodiment 10, wherein the garment structure further includes:

(a) a second sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the second sensor region, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn for the second sensor region is positioned and arranged with respect to the garment structure to receive the first electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source; and

(b) a second lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the second lead in electrical communication with and extending from the second sensor region to carry the first electrical signal from the second sensor region to a second sensor data transfer region.

18. A garment according to embodiment 10, wherein the garment structure further includes a second sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the second sensor region, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn for the second sensor region is positioned and arranged with respect to the garment structure to receive the first electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source, and wherein the second sensor region is in electrical communication with the first lead.

19. A garment according to embodiment 10, wherein the garment structure is a one piece, seamless garment structure.

20. A physical or physiological monitoring system, comprising:

a garment structure formed, at least in part, through a knitting process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting process is electrically conductive, and wherein the garment structure includes:

    • (a) a first sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the first sensor region, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn is positioned and arranged with respect to the garment structure to receive a first electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source; and
    • (b) a first lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the first lead in electrical communication with and extending from the first sensor region to carry the first electrical signal from the first sensor region;

a data transfer system for receiving the first electrical signal and transferring a first information signal, wherein the first information signal includes at least one of the first electrical signal or information derived, at least in part, from the first electrical signal; and

a physical or physiological monitoring output device for receiving the first information signal and outputting physical or physiological data or information, wherein the physical or physiological data or information includes at least one of the first information signal or data derived, at least in part, from the first information signal.

21. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 20, wherein the garment structure is an upper torso garment.

22. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 20, wherein at least some of the yarn in the garment structure includes a spandex component.

23. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 20, wherein the first sensor region is on a front chest area of the garment structure.

24. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 20, wherein the garment structure further includes:

(a) a second sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the second sensor region, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn for the second sensor region is positioned and arranged with respect to the garment structure to receive a second electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source; and

(b) a second lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the second lead in electrical communication with and extending from the second sensor region to carry the second electrical signal from the second sensor region.

25. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 20, wherein the data transfer system includes a terminal for connecting to the physical or physiological monitoring output device.

26. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 20, wherein the data transfer system includes a wireless transmitter for transmitting the first information signal to the physical or physiological monitoring output device.

27. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 20, wherein the physical or physiological monitoring output device displays electrocardiogram data or information.

28. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 20, wherein the physical or physiological monitoring output device displays heart rate or pulse rate data or information.

29. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 20, wherein the physical or physiological monitoring output device displays respiration data or information.

30. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 20, wherein the data transfer system includes a memory for storing data derived from the first electrical signal.

31. A method for forming a garment, comprising:

knitting at least a portion of a garment structure, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting is electrically conductive, wherein the knitting includes:

    • (a) knitting a concentration of electrically conductive yarn to form a knitted first sensor region in the garment structure, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn is positioned and arranged in the garment structure to receive a first electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source; and
    • (b) knitting a first lead from electrically conductive yarn in the garment structure, wherein the first lead is in electrical communication with and extends from the first sensor region to carry the first electrical signal from the first sensor region; and

providing a first sensor data transfer region on the garment structure for receiving the first electrical signal.

32. A method according to embodiment 31, wherein the knitting forms an upper torso garment structure.

33. A method according to embodiment 31, wherein at least some of the yarn used in the knitting includes a spandex component.

34. A method according to embodiment 31, wherein the first sensor region is formed on a front chest area of the garment structure.

35. A method according to embodiment 31, wherein the knitting further includes:

(a) knitting a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at a second sensor region in the garment structure, wherein the second sensor region is positioned and arranged to receive a second electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source; and

(b) knitting a second lead from electrically conductive yarn in the garment structure, wherein the second lead is in electrical communication with and extends from the second sensor region to carry the second electrical signal from the second sensor region.

36. A method according to embodiment 31, wherein the knitting produces a one piece, seamless garment structure.

37. A method of monitoring a physical or physiological parameter, comprising:

donning a garment structure, wherein the garment structure is formed, at least in part, through a knitting process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting process is electrically conductive, and wherein the garment structure includes:

    • (a) a first sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the first sensor region; and
    • (b) a first lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the first lead in electrical communication with and extending from the first sensor region;

receiving a first electrical signal from a wearer's body or other source at the first sensor region; and

transmitting the first electrical signal along the first lead.

38. A method according to embodiment 37, wherein the garment structure is an upper torso garment.

39. A method according to embodiment 37, wherein at least some of the yarn in the garment structure includes a spandex component.

40. A method according to embodiment 37, wherein the first sensor region is on a front chest area of the garment structure.

41. A method according to embodiment 37, wherein the garment structure further includes: (a) a second sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the second sensor region, and (b) a second lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the second lead in electrical communication with and extending from the second sensor region, and wherein the method further includes:

receiving a second electrical signal from the wearer's body or other source at the second sensor region; and

transmitting the second electrical signal along the second lead.

42. A method according to embodiment 37, wherein the garment structure further includes: (a) a second sensor region integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the second sensor region, and (b) a second lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process, the second lead in electrical communication with and extending from the second sensor region, and wherein the method further includes:

receiving the first electrical signal from the wearer's body or other source at the second sensor region; and

transmitting the first electrical signal along the second lead.

43. A method according to embodiment 37, wherein the first electrical signal is transmitted to an output terminal.

44. A method according to embodiment 43, further comprising:

connecting the output terminal to a physical or physiological monitoring output device.

45. A method according to embodiment 37, further comprising:

transmitting the first electrical signal or data derived from the first electrical signal to a physical or physiological monitoring output device.

46. A method according to embodiment 37, further comprising:

displaying physical or physiological data or information based on or derived from the first electrical signal.

47. A method according to embodiment 46, wherein the displaying includes displaying electrocardiogram data or information.

48. A method according to embodiment 46, wherein the displaying includes displaying heart rate or pulse rate data or information.

49. A method according to embodiment 46, wherein the displaying includes displaying respiration data or information.

50. A method according to embodiment 37, further comprising:

storing data derived from the first electrical signal.

51. A fabric, comprising:

a fabric structure formed, at least in part, through a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting or weaving process is electrically conductive, and wherein the fabric structure includes one or more sensor regions, wherein at least one sensor region includes:

    • (a) a sensor element integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at a location of the sensor region; and
    • (b) a lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process, the lead in electrical communication with and extending from the sensor element to carry an electrical signal from the sensor region.

52. A fabric according to embodiment 51, wherein at least some of the yarn in the fabric structure includes a spandex component.

53. A fabric according to embodiment 51, wherein the fabric structure forms at least a portion of a blanket structure.

54. A fabric according to embodiment 53, wherein a plurality of sensor regions are spaced around the blanket structure in a grid arrangement.

55. A physical or physiological monitoring system, comprising:

a fabric structure formed, at least in part, through a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting or weaving process is electrically conductive, and wherein the fabric structure includes one or more sensor regions, wherein at least one sensor region includes:

    • (a) a sensor element integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at a location of the sensor region, and
    • (b) a lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process, the lead in electrical communication with and extending from the sensor element to carry an electrical signal from the sensor region;

a data transfer system for receiving electrical signals from the sensor regions and transferring a first information signal, wherein the first information signal includes at least one of the electrical signals from one or more sensor regions or information derived, at least in part, from the electrical signals from one or more sensor regions; and

a physical or physiological monitoring output device for receiving the first information signal and outputting physical or physiological data or information, wherein the physical or physiological data or information includes at least one of the first information signal or data derived, at least in part, from the first information signal.

56. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 55, wherein at least some of the yarn in the fabric structure includes a spandex component.

57. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 55, wherein the fabric structure forms at least a portion of a blanket structure.

58. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 57, wherein a plurality of sensor regions are spaced around the blanket structure in a grid arrangement.

59. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 55, wherein the data transfer system includes a terminal for connecting to the physical or physiological monitoring output device.

60. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 55, wherein the data transfer system includes a wireless transmitter for transmitting the first information signal to the physical or physiological monitoring output device.

61. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 55, wherein the data transfer system includes a memory for storing data derived from the first electrical signal.

62. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 55, wherein the physical or physiological monitoring output device displays information relating to a presence of moisture on the fabric structure.

63. A physical or physiological monitoring system according to embodiment 55, wherein the physical or physiological monitoring output device displays information relating to user movement or motion with respect to the fabric structure.

64. A method for forming a fabric, comprising:

forming a fabric structure by a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the forming is electrically conductive, wherein the forming includes:

    • (a) forming a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at one or more regions in the fabric structure to form one or more integrated sensor regions in the fabric structure, and
    • (b) forming one or more lead elements from electrically conductive yarn in the fabric structure, wherein each respective sensor region includes a respective lead element that is in electrical communication with and extends from the sensor region to carry an electrical signal from the respective sensor region; and

providing at least one sensor data transfer region on the fabric structure for receiving at least some of the electrical signals.

65. A method according to embodiment 64, wherein at least some of the yarn used in the forming includes a spandex component.

66. A method according to embodiment 64, wherein the forming includes a knitting process.

67. A method according to embodiment 64, wherein the forming includes a weaving process.

68. A method according to embodiment 64, wherein the fabric structure constitutes at least a portion of a blanket structure.

69. A method according to embodiment 68, wherein a plurality of sensor regions are spaced around the blanket structure in a grid arrangement.

70. A method of monitoring a physical or physiological parameter, comprising:

providing a fabric structure, wherein the fabric structure is formed, at least in part, through a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting or weaving process is electrically conductive, and wherein the fabric structure includes one or more sensor regions, wherein at least one sensor region includes:

    • (a) a sensor element integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at a location of the sensor region, and
    • (b) a lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process, the lead in electrical communication with and extending from the sensor element to carry an electrical signal from the sensor region;

receiving at least one electrical signal from at least one sensor region; and

transmitting the electrical signal along the respective lead or leads associated with the sensor region or regions received the electrical signal.

71. A method according to embodiment 70, wherein at least some of the yarn in the fabric structure includes a spandex component.

72. A method according to embodiment 70, wherein at least some of the electrical signals from the sensor region or regions are transmitted to an output terminal.

73. A method according to embodiment 72, further comprising:

connecting the output terminal to a physical or physiological monitoring output device.

74. A method according to embodiment 70, further comprising:

transmitting at least one electrical signal or data derived from at least one electrical signal to a physical or physiological monitoring output device.

75. A method according to embodiment 70, further comprising:

displaying physical or physiological data or information based on or derived from at least one electrical signal.

76. A method according to embodiment 75, wherein the displaying includes displaying information relating to a presence of moisture on the fabric structure.

77. A method according to embodiment 75, wherein the displaying includes displaying information relating to user movement or motion with respect to the fabric structure.

78. A method according to embodiment 70, further comprising:

storing data derived from at least one electrical signal.

79. A method according to embodiment 70, wherein the fabric structure constitutes at least a portion of a blanket structure.

80. A method according to embodiment 79, wherein a plurality of sensor regions are spaced around the blanket structure in a grid arrangement.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The present invention is illustrated by way of example and not limited in the accompanying figures, in which like reference numerals indicate the same or similar elements throughout, and in which:

FIGS. 1A through 1P illustrate various example configurations for yarns that may be electrically-conductive or otherwise have the capability to transmit information;

FIGS. 2A through 2E illustrate various example woven type fabric structures wherein at least one of the yarns may be electrically-conductive or otherwise have the capability to transmit information;

FIGS. 3A through 3I illustrate various example knit or interlooping type fabric structures wherein at least one of the yarns may be electrically-conductive or otherwise have the capability to transmit information;

FIGS. 4A through 4C illustrate an example garment structure that includes sensor regions integrated into the fabric structure by knitting or otherwise incorporating yarns that are electrically-conductive or otherwise have the capability to transmit information into the fabric structure;

FIGS. 5A through 5C illustrate various examples of sensor regions and/or lead structures that may be knitted or otherwise incorporated into fabric or garment structures in accordance with examples of this invention;

FIGS. 6A through 10B illustrate various examples of garment structures including integrated fabric sensor regions and lead elements in accordance with examples of this invention;

FIGS. 11A through 12 illustrate various examples of garment or fabric structures having a dual layer fabric construction in accordance with examples of this invention; and

FIGS. 13A and 13B illustrate various examples of physical or physiological monitoring systems and methods according to some examples of this invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The following description and the accompanying figures disclose various examples and features of fabrics and garment structures including integrated sensor regions and/or lead members for physical and/or physiological monitoring.

I. General Description of Aspects of the Invention

A. Fabric and Garment Structures and Methods of Making Such Structures

Aspects of this invention relate to various fabric and/or garment structures that include infrastructure for transmitting information, such as signals produced by a human or other animal body or signals received from some other source. Such fabrics or garment structures may include, for example: a textile formed through a knitting process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting process is electrically conductive to form an integrated electrically conductive infrastructure for transmitting electrical signals. The textile may form at least a portion of an article of apparel, blanket, or other structure, and in some instances, it may completely form an article of apparel, blanket, other structure (e.g., optionally as a one piece construction, in a seamless or substantially seamless construction, etc.).

Fabrics and/or articles of apparel in accordance with at least some examples of this invention may have one or more sensor regions integrated into the textile during the knitting process for forming the fabric or apparel. This may be accomplished, for example, by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the various sensor regions, wherein the sensor region(s) is (are) in electrical communication with at least a portion of the electrically conductive infrastructure. As more specific examples, the sensor regions may be provided in electrical communication with the electrically conductive infrastructure by including electrical leads as part of the electrically conductive infrastructure. These electrical leads may be formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the textile during the knitting process, and the leads may be placed in electrical communication with the sensor regions (e.g., via direct contact between the electrically conductive yarns of the sensor regions and the electrically conductive yarns of the lead elements) and extend from the respective sensor regions to carry electrical signals from the sensor regions, e.g., to a sensor data transfer region.

Still other aspects of this invention relate to fabrics and/or articles of apparel that include: a fabric structure formed, at least in part, through a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting or weaving process is electrically conductive, and wherein the fabric structure includes a plurality of independent sensor regions, wherein each sensor region includes: (a) a sensor element integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at a location of the sensor region; and (b) a lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process, the lead in electrical communication with and extending from the sensor element to carry an electrical signal from the sensor region.

Any desired types of fabric or garment structures may be provided or produced without departing from this invention. In at least some examples, the fabric will be formed into a blanket having a plurality of sensing regions disposed therein, e.g., in a grid pattern. In other examples, the fabric will be formed into a garment for any desired portion of a human body, such as upper torso garments (such as T-shirts, bra type garments (such as sports bras, etc.), etc.; leotards; tight or form-fitting type garments for the upper and/or lower torso and/or portions thereof (e.g., wherein at least some of the yarn in the fabric structure includes a spandex or other elastically deformable component, etc.); hospital gowns; diapers or incontinence garments; and the like. One or more sensor regions may be provided at any desired location on the fabric structure, including one or more of its front, back, sides, shoulder tops, chest, etc. The sensor regions may be arranged so as to receive electrical signals or other signals generated by a wearer's body or from other sources, such as EKG signals, heart rate signals, pulse rate signals, blood pressure signals, respiratory signals, brain wave signals, incident light or other radiation signals, incident moisture signals, incident or ambient chemical signals, etc. If desired, yarns including spandex or other elastically deformable components may be provided at selected locations in the garment or other fabric structures, e.g., to provide a tight or form-fitting garment; to help hold the sensor regions at a desired location, e.g., with respect to the wearer's body (e.g., at a location to pick up EKG or heart rate signals, etc.); etc.

Still additional features and aspects of this invention relate to methods for forming fabrics, articles of apparel, and/or garment structures e.g., of the various types described above. Such methods may include, for example: (a) forming a fabric structure by a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the forming is electrically conductive, wherein the forming includes: (i) forming a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at one or more regions in the fabric structure to form one or more integrated sensor regions in the fabric structure, and (ii) forming one or more lead elements from electrically conductive yarn in the fabric structure, wherein each respective sensor region includes a respective lead element that is in electrical communication with and extends from the sensor region to carry an electrical signal from the respective sensor region; and, optionally, (b) providing at least one sensor data transfer region on the fabric structure for receiving at least some of the electrical signals.

In at least some examples of the invention, the fabric and/or the garment structures will be produced by a knitting process. Examples of such methods include: (a) knitting at least a portion of a garment or fabric structure, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting is electrically conductive, wherein the knitting includes: (i) knitting a concentration of electrically conductive yarn to form a knitted first sensor region in the garment structure, wherein the concentration of electrically conductive yarn is positioned and arranged in the garment structure to receive a first electrical or other signal from a wearer's body or from another source, and (ii) knitting a first lead from electrically conductive yarn in the garment structure, wherein the first lead is in electrical communication with and extends from the first sensor region to carry an electrical signal from the first sensor region; and (b) providing a first sensor data transfer region on the garment structure for receiving the first electrical signal.

Again, any types of garments, yarn materials, and/or arrangement of sensor region(s) and/or lead(s) may be provided by this method, including the various types of garments, yarn materials, and/or sensor region and/or lead arrangement(s) described above. If desired, this process may be used to produce a one piece, optionally seamless or substantially seamless garment or fabric structure. Knitting processes in accordance with at least some examples of this invention may take place on a Shima Seiki whole garment machine system or other programmable knitting system. Such systems and methods for using them are known and are conventionally used in the art.

B. Physical or Physiological Parameter Monitoring Systems

Additional aspects of this invention relate to physical or physiological parameter monitoring systems that utilize fabrics and/or garments in accordance with examples of this invention (e.g., the various fabrics and/or garments described above). As more specific examples, a physical or physiological monitoring system in accordance with at least some examples of this invention may include: (a) a fabric structure formed, at least in part, through a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting or weaving process is electrically conductive, and wherein the fabric structure includes one or more sensor regions, wherein each sensor region includes: (i) a sensor element integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at a location of the sensor element, and (ii) a lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process, the lead in electrical communication with and extending from the sensor element to carry an electrical signal from the sensor region; (b) a data transfer system for receiving electrical signals from the sensor region(s) and transferring a first information signal, wherein the first information signal includes at least one of the electrical signals from one or more sensor regions or information derived, at least in part, from the electrical signals from one or more sensor regions; and (c) a physical or physiological monitoring output device for receiving the first information signal and outputting physical or physiological data or information, wherein the physical or physiological data or information includes at least one of the first information signal or data derived, at least in part, from the first information signal. If desired, in accordance with at least some examples of this invention, the fabric or garment structure may be made, at least in part, by a knitting process, wherein one or more sensor regions and leads are integrated into the garment structure during the knitting process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at the desired sensor region or element locations during the knitting process.

If desired, the fabric used in the physical or physiological monitoring systems described above may be incorporated into various different products, such as garments (e.g., at least a portion of an upper torso garment, at least a portion of a bra product (e.g., a sports bra), a track suit, a leotard, other form fitting garments, etc.); blankets; hospital gowns; surgical wraps; diapers or incontinence garments; etc. Also, if desired, at least some of the yarn in the fabric structure may include spandex or another elastic component, e.g., to help hold the sensor regions in the proper location with respect to the wearer's body for performing their monitoring function, to provide a comfortable, form-fitting garment, etc. If desired, the yarn including the spandex component may be separate and independent from the electrically conductive yarn. Of course, the sensor region(s) may be provided at any necessary and/or desired locations in the garment or other fabric structure without departing from this invention.

The data transfer system may be provided as any desired structure and/or at any desired location without departing from the invention, including at a location separate and/or remote from the fabric or garment structure. In some examples, if desired, the data transfer system may constitute a “pad” or other concentration of electrically conductive yarn that function as an electrical contact portion for connection to other electrical conductors (e.g., wires, metal plates, input receptacles, etc.). As another example, if desired, the data transfer system may constitute or include a terminal, such as a portion of a snap, plug, pin, or other connector, that will enable connection to a wire, cable, or other device (such as a direct or indirect connection to a physical or physiological monitoring output device, a display device, a PC, a nurse station, a computer workstation, an alarm device, a watch, a cell phone, a PDA, an MP3 player, an audio/video device, or other personally carried display or communication device, etc.). As still another example, if desired, the data transfer system may include a wireless transmission system for transmitting data from the garment or fabric structure to another device, such as one of the various devices described above. As still another example, if desired, the data transfer system may include a memory and/or a processor (optionally on board the garment, fabric, or other structure) that stores data derived from the sensor region, e.g., for later download, transmission, analysis, etc., and/or otherwise processes the data.

Physical or physiological monitoring systems according to at least some examples of this invention may display or otherwise provide to users any desired type of information without departing from the invention, including, for example, electrocardiogram data or information, heart rate data or information, pulse rate data or information, blood pressure data or information, respiration data or information, blood oxygen data or information, brain wave data or information, EEG data or information, moisture content data or information (e.g., moisture on a sheet or garment including the sensor regions), wearer motion or movement data or information, radiation exposure data or information, radiation dose data or information, temperature data or information, etc.

Finally, still additional aspects of this invention relate to various methods of monitoring physical or physiological parameters using fabrics and/or garments, e.g., of the various types described above, as well as using the various physical or physiological parameter monitoring systems described above. Such methods may include: (a) providing a fabric structure (optionally as all or part of a garment structure), wherein the fabric structure is formed, at least in part, through a knitting or weaving process, wherein at least one yarn used in the knitting or weaving process is electrically conductive, and wherein the fabric structure includes one or more sensor regions, wherein each sensor region includes: (i) a sensor element integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn at a location of the sensor region, and (ii) a lead formed from electrically conductive yarn and integrated into the fabric structure during the knitting or weaving process, the lead in electrical communication with and extending from the sensor element to carry an electrical signal from the sensor region; (b) receiving at least one electrical signal from at least one sensor region; and (c) transmitting the electrical signal along the respective lead or leads associated with the sensor region or regions to a physical or physiological parameter monitoring system.

Given the general description of various features and aspects of the invention provided above, more detailed descriptions of various specific examples of fabrics, garments, physical or physiological monitoring systems, and methods according to the invention are provided below.

II. Detailed Description of Example Fabric and Garment Structures According to the Invention

In the description that follows, various connections are set forth between elements in the overall structure of systems according to the invention. The reader should understand that these connections in general and, unless specified otherwise, may be direct or indirect and that this specification is not intended to be limiting in this respect.

A. Yarn Materials

Fabrics and textiles used for systems and methods in accordance with examples of this invention may include a wide variety of different yarn materials and combinations of yarn materials, including at least some yarn materials that are well known and conventionally used in the art. For example, in many instances the choice of material for the yarns included in the fabric structure will be determined based on the intended end use of the fabric. The yarn material used to make the majority of a garment structure also often will be in immediate contact with the wearer's skin. Therefore, yarns for inclusion in the garment should be selected so as to provide the necessary comfort properties for the fabric/garment. Various factors such as comfort, fit, fabric hand, air permeability, moisture absorption, stretchability, flexibility, and/or other structural characteristics of the yarn may be relevant to a determination of the types of yarns to be included in a specific fabric structure. Suitable yarns include, but are not limited to, cotton, nylons, rayons, other polyesters, spandex, polyester/cotton blends, and micro denier polyester/cotton blends.

The term “yarn,” as used herein, should be broadly construed as including any assembly capable of use in a knitting or weaving process having a substantially longer length than its cross section. Examples of yarns include both twisted and untwisted materials of various different constructions and compositions, including combinations of more than one individual element. Specific examples of “yarns” include, but are not necessarily limited to, fibers, filaments, staple fibers, threads, and the like, including the various examples described in more detail below.

Cotton yarn includes natural fibers and possesses excellent moisture absorption properties and has very soft feel on the skin. It also has mechanical and abrasion properties that typically make it suitable for a wide variety of specific applications, such as for undergarments, baby clothes, etc. Micro denier polyester/cotton blends are extremely versatile fibers that typically are characterized by: (a) good feel, i.e., handle; (b) good moisture absorption; (c) good mechanical properties and abrasion resistance; and (d) ease of processing. Suitable micro denier polyester/cotton blended fibers are known in the art and are commercially available, for example, from Hamby Textile Research of North Carolina. Micro denier fibers for use in the blend also are known in the art and are commercially available, for example, from E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company of Wilmington, Del.

As will be described in more detail below, garments in accordance with at least some examples of this invention may include one or more yarns having an elastic component. All or one or more portions of the garment may be constructed from yarns including this elastic component. One such elastic or stretchable component that may be used in fabrics and/or garments in accordance with at least some examples of this invention includes elastomeric yarns like spandex (e.g., available under the tradename LYCRA® from INVISTA Corporation of Wichita, Kans.). The comfort stretch component may be used in at least some fabric and/or garment structures to form conforming portions in the fabric, at least at various desired locations, e.g., to achieve and maintain good and stable contact between the electrodes and the wearer's skin.

Additionally, as mentioned above, at least some of the yarn included in the fabric or garment structure during the fabric formation process (e.g., when knitting or weaving to produce the fabric) will include an electrically conductive material. A wide variety of electrically conductive yarns may be used without departing from this invention. For example, the electrically conductive yarns may include either a high or low conductivity electrical conducting material component (“ECC”) or both high and low conductivity components. In at least some examples, the electrically conductive fiber may have a resistivity of from about 0.07 ohm/meter −3 to 10 k ohms/m. The ECC can be used to monitor one or more body vital signs including, for example, heart rate, pulse rate, temperature, and oxygen saturation (pulse ox), through sensors on the body and for linking to a personal status monitor (“PSM”). The ECC also can be used to monitor levels of selected components in the body's environment, such as chemical, biological, and radiation (nuclear) levels, as well as smoke levels and oxygen content in the atmosphere. Suitable materials for use as electrically conductive material components for yarns may include, for example, intrinsically conducting polymers, doped fibers, and metallic fibers, as well as combinations thereof.

Polymers that conduct electric currents without the addition of conductive (inorganic) substances or dopants are known as “intrinsically conductive polymers” (also called “ICPs”). At least some intrinsically electrically conducting polymers have a conjugated structure, i.e., alternating single and double bonds between the carbon atoms of the main polymeric chain. In the late 1970s, it was discovered that polyacetylene could be prepared in a form with a high electrical conductivity and that the conductivity could be further increased by chemical oxidation. Thereafter, many other polymers with a conjugated (alternating single and double bonds) carbon main chain have been shown to possess the same behavior, e.g., polythiophene and polypyrrole. Initially, it was believed that the processability of traditional polymers and the discovered electrical conductivity could be combined. However, it has been found that the conductive polymers typically are rather unstable in air, and they typically have poor mechanical properties and cannot be easily processed. Also, intrinsically conductive polymers typically are insoluble in solvents, and they possess a very high melting point and exhibit little other softening behavior. Consequently, they cannot be processed in the same way as normal thermoplastic polymers, and they usually are processed using a variety of dispersion methods. Because of these shortcomings, fibers made up of fully conducting polymers with good mechanical properties are not yet commercially available and hence are not presently preferred for use in garments and/or fabrics in accordance with this invention (although they may be used, if desired).

Another class of conducting fibers includes polymeric or other fibers doped within organic or metallic particles. The conductivity of these fibers is relatively high if they are sufficiently doped with metal particles, but this may make the fibers somewhat less flexible. Such fibers can be used in garment and/or fabric structures, e.g., to carry information from the sensors to the data transfer location and/or monitoring unit, if they are properly insulated.

Metallic fibers, such as copper and stainless steel optionally insulated with polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride, also may be used as conducting fibers in fabric and/or garment structures in accordance with examples of this invention. With their exceptional current carrying capacity, copper and stainless steel typically are more efficient than doped polymeric fibers. Also, metallic fibers are strong, and they resist stretching, neck-down, creep, nicks, and breaks very well. Therefore, metallic fibers of very small diameter (e.g., on the order of 0.1 mm) may be used in garments and fabric structures in accordance with examples of this invention, e.g., to carry information from the sensors to the data transfer location and/or monitoring unit. Even when insulated, the fiber diameter typically can be maintained less than 0.3 mm, and therefore, these fibers can be made very flexible and can be easily incorporated into a fabric and/or garment structure. Also, the installation and connection of metallic fibers to a PSM unit will be simple, as there is no need for special connectors, tools, compounds, and/or procedures.

One example of a highly conductive yarn suitable for use in fabrics and garment structures is BEKINOX® brand stainless steel fibers available from Bekaert Corporation of Marietta, Ga. (a subsidiary of Bekintex Nev., Wetteren, Belgium), which have a typical resistivity of about 60 ohm-meter. BEKITEX® brand yarns, which include BEKINOX® brand stainless steel fibers, also are commercially available from Bekaert Corp. The bending rigidity of this yarn and these fibers are comparable to those of polyarnide high-resistance yarns, and these yarns and fibers may be used to form at least portions of the electrically conductive sensor regions, leads, and/or other aspects of the information infrastructure in accordance with the present invention.

Still other examples of suitable electrically conductive materials for the sensor regions, leads, and/or other portions of the information infrastructure component for fabrics and garment structures in accordance with this invention include: (i) nylon fibers doped with conductive inorganic particles un-insulated and/or insulated with a PVC sheath; (ii) un-insulated and/or insulated stainless steel fibers; and/or (iii) thin gauge copper wires with or without a polyethylene or other insulative sheath. All of these fibers can readily be incorporated into a fabric or garment structure and can serve as elements of a wearable physical and/or physiological parameter monitoring system in accordance with this invention. A specific example of a commercially available thin copper wire that may be used in fabric and/or garment structures in accordance with at least some examples of this invention includes 24-gauge insulated copper wire available from Ack Electronics of Atlanta, Ga.

FIGS. 1A through 1P illustrate examples of cross sections of various yarns that may be included in fabric and garment structures in accordance with at least some examples of this invention. FIGS. 1A through 1D illustrate various examples of electrically conductive fibers 100 (e.g., made of stainless steel, copper, or other metallic materials or intrinsically conductive polymeric materials) of various different cross sections (e.g., round (FIG. 1A), hexagonal (FIG. 1B), thick rectangular (FIG. 1C), and flat rectangular). Of course, a wide variety of other cross sectional shapes may be used without departing from this invention. Moreover, if desired, yarns of these cross sections and these structures may be utilized for any non-electrically conducting yarns in the fabric or garment structures without departing from this invention, (e.g., cotton, spandex, polyesters, combinations thereof, etc.).

FIGS. 1E through 1N illustrate various examples of yarn structures 110 in which at least one discrete strand, portion, or component 112 in the yarn structure 110 (the blackened component in the illustrations) is constructed from an electrically conductive component and at least one other discrete strand, portion, or component 114 in the yarn structure 110 is made from another type of material, e.g., present to provide other desired properties (e.g., electrical insulation, comfort properties, fit properties, feel properties, fabric hand, air permeability, moisture absorption, stretchability, abrasion resistance, ease of processing, flexibility, other desired mechanical properties, etc.). Of course, if desired, yarns of these cross sections and/or these structures may be utilized for any non-electrically conducting yarns in the fabric or garment structures without departing from this invention (e.g., by omitting or replacing the electrically conductive component 112 with another component that is non-electrically conductive (e.g., typical fabric yarn components)). Also, wide variations in the cross-sectional shapes of the various portions 112 and 114 and/or overall yarn structure 110 may be made without departing from this invention.

FIGS. 1O and 1P illustrate examples of yarn structures 120 made up of multiple independent strands 122 of material (in twisted or untwisted form (untwisted is illustrated). Of course, any desired number of strands 122, cross-sectional shape, and/or overall cross sectional shape may be provided in a yarn structure 120 without departing from this invention, and if desired, the individual strands 122 in a given yarn structure 120 may have the same or differing cross sectional shapes without departing from this invention. When used as an electrically conductive yarn component, one or more of the individual strands may be electrically conductive, e.g., in one or more of the various ways described above (e.g., as an intrinsically conductive polymer strand 122, as a doped polymer strand 122, as a metallic strand 122, etc.).

B. Knitting and Weaving Procedures

Yarns, e.g., of the various types described above, may be formed into fabrics in various ways, including in conventional weaving, intertwining, twisting, and/or knitting (or interlooping) processes as are known and used in the art.

FIGS. 2A through 2E illustrate various examples of fabric structures 200 formed by weaving or other weave-type fabric formation procedures in which electrically conductive yarns 202 (the blackened yarns) are provided at various locations in the structure 200 along with other, non-electrically conductive yarns 204. If desired, relatively high concentrations of electrically conductive yarns 202 may be provided at various locations in the fabric structure 200, such as at locations in a garment structure where the electrically conductive yarns 202 can pick up electrical or other signals from the body or from another source, e.g., for EKG, heart rate, pulse rate, chemical exposure, light or other radiation exposure, moisture, or other measurement purposes. In fabric structures 200, the location(s) and concentration(s) of electrically conductive yarns 202 with respect to the non-electrically conductive yarns 204 may be selected such that good electrical conductivity is maintained while the overall fabric still maintains other desired properties (e.g., good comfort, fit, feel, hand, air permeability, moisture absorption, sweat wicking, stretchability, flexibility, abrasion resistance, processibility, etc.). While the illustrated examples only show the electrically conductive yarns 202 running in one direction (e.g., only in the weft or warp directions), if desired, the electrically conductive yarns 202 may be provided running in any desired direction, including in multiple directions, without departing from the invention. Also, if desired, an individual yarn strand 202 may include only discrete portions of electrical conductivity along its length direction (e.g., doped with electrically conductive material over only a portion of its length, including an insulative covering over a portion of its length, etc.) without departing from this invention.

FIGS. 3A through 3I illustrate various examples of knitted or other interlooping fabric structures 300 that may include electrically conductive yarn components 302 at various locations in the overall structure 300 (again, non-electrically conductive yarns 304, optionally of a variety of different compositions, may be present at various locations and selected such that the overall fabric 300 still maintains other desired properties (e.g., good comfort, fit, feel, hand, air permeability, moisture absorption, sweat wicking, stretchability, flexibility, abrasion resistance, processibility, etc.)). Conventional and commercially available knitting machines and systems are known in the art that are capable of forming various types of stitches within a single textile structure, and such machines and systems also may incorporate one or more yarn types into the textile structure (e.g., to include both electrically conductive and non-electrically conductive yarns in a single fabric structure when forming the fabric). In general, such conventional knitting machines and systems may be programmed to alter a design on the textile structure through needle selection. More specifically, the type of stitch formed at each location on a textile structure may be selected by programming a knitting machine such that specific needles either accept or do not accept yarn at each stitch location. In this manner, various patterns, textures, or designs may be selectively and purposefully imparted to the textile structure. In addition, known knitting machines and systems may be programmed to utilize a specific type of yarn material for each stitch. That is, the type of yarn utilized at each location on the textile structure may be selected by programming the knitting machine such that specific needles accept a particular type of yarn at each stitch location. These features of known and conventional knitting machines and systems can be used in accordance with examples of the invention to provide concentrations of electrically conductive yarn at specific locations in a garment or fabric structure, e.g., to thereby produce knitted sensor elements, electrode elements, contact elements, and/or lead elements, directly and integrally into the knitted fabric structure.

The electrically conductive yarn component may be used as the yarn in either the course direction or the wale direction, or both in the course and wale directions, optionally at selected and targeted locations within these directions, without departing from this invention.

As a more specific example, in accordance with at least some examples of this invention, knitted fabric and/or garment structures in accordance with the invention may be produced using a commercially available Shima Seiki Whole Garment Machine. A commercially available machine having the following example parameters and specifications may be used:

Parameter Details
Knitting Machine Bed Shima Seiki Whole Garment Machine
4 bed System
Plating Feeders
Construction Any knit construction
Gauge (Needles Per Inch) 8-14
Width Any desired width in inches
Wales per Inch As desired - depending on the garment
weight - e.g., 1-100
Courses per Inch As desired - e.g., 1-100
Yarn Component - Cotton, Cotton/Polyester Blends,
Cotton/Nylon Blends,
Cotton/Stretch Polyester Blends,
Cotton/Stretch Nylon Blends etc.
Elastomeric Component: Bare Lycra, Covered Lycra 40-120 D
Electrical Conductive Yarn Stainless Steel, Silver Coated, Copper
Coated, Silver/Copper Coated,
Carbon, Copper wire, insulated,
uninsulated

The above table shows various example parameters that can be used for producing a seamless whole knitted garment on a Shima Seiki whole garment machine (e.g., a stretchable, form-fitting T-shirt or sports bra type garment). The resulting garment may be constructed to have an information infrastructure integrated within the fabric by selectively providing high concentrations of electrically conductive yarn at locations corresponding to sensor regions, electrode elements, contact elements, and/or lead elements. The various parameters and/or yarn selection and/or placement features can be adjusted, as desired, to affect the performance and/or feel characteristics of the resulting knitted fabric or garment, to provide the sensors and leads in the desired locations, etc.

The production of a fabric or garment structure on an automated knitting system, such as the Shima Seiki Whole Garment Machine System, is advantageous in at least some respects because it allows an entire garment to be constructed, if desired, that is ready to wear as it comes off the machine. If desired and properly programmed, the Shima Seiki Whole Garment Machine System also allows for production of an entire garment without any seams, cuts, and/or sewing needs. These features can lower lead time and avoid substantial costs and/or difficulties, for example, associated with the quality of the fabric or garment product, repeatability of the design, percent off quality, etc.

C. Sensor and/or Lead Construction

FIGS. 4A through 4C illustrate more details of a fabric structure, in the form of a T-shirt type garment 400 in this illustrated example, that includes plural sensor regions 402 and 404 and lead elements 402 a, 402 b, 404 a, and 404 b leading away from the sensor regions 402 and 404. FIG. 4A is a general view of a portion of the T-shirt garment 400, for context purposes, with more detailed views of the sensor region 402 and lead elements 402 a and 402 b shown in FIGS. 4B and 4C. FIG. 4B illustrates the sensor region 402 and lead elements 402 a and 402 b from the garment exterior, while FIG. 4C illustrates these elements from the garment interior.

In fabric production, e.g., using the Shima Seiki Whole Garment Machine or other appropriate knitting system, a high concentration of electrically conductive yarn (e.g., one of the types described above in conjunction with FIGS. 1A through 1P) may be provided at desired locations to produce an electrode or other sensor region 402 integrated into the fabric of the garment structure 400 at a desired location in the garment structure 400. The actual yarn making up the sensor structure 402 also forms an integral part of the garment's structure 400 (e.g., no other base fabric, yarn, substrate, or other base material needs to be provided at the location of the sensor region 402). One or multiple different types, shapes, patterns, etc. of electrically conductive yarn 402 may be present in the sensor region 402 without departing from the invention. Of course, any desired number of sensor regions and/or positioning of sensor regions may be provided in an individual garment or fabric structure without departing from this invention. As apparent from the interior view of FIG. 4C, with the sensor region 402 and leads 402 a and 402 b integrally formed in the garment structure 400 by the yarns selected to make these regions, the resulting garment 400 remains flexible and comfortable to the touch and can receive signals directly at the sensor region 402 (due to contact between the sensor region 402 and the wearer's skin) without the need for glue, tape, sticky electrodes, or the like.

This sensor region 402 may directly contact the garment wearer's body for at least some uses or applications and may be used to pick up electrical (or other appropriate) signals from the wearer's body or from other sources. The electrical (or other) signals may be transmitted from the sensor region 402 along lead lines 402 a and 402 b to a data transfer system (which will be described in more detail later). As shown, for example in FIG. 4C, the lead lines 402 a and 402 b also may be integrally formed as part of the fabric structure by providing a concentration of electrically conductive yarn (e.g., one of the types described above in conjunction with FIGS. 1A through 1P) continuously at appropriate locations in the garment structure so as to form the continuous lead lines 402 a and 402 b at the desired locations in the garment structure 400. The actual yarn making up the lead line structures 402 a and 402 b also may form an integral part of the garment's structure 400 (e.g., no other base fabric, yarn, substrate, or other base material need be provided at the locations of the lead lines 402 a and 402 b). The electrically conductive yarns used to make the lead lines 402 a and 402 b may be the same or different, and they may be the same as or different from the yarn or yarns used to make the sensor region 402. Additionally, if desired, more than one type of electrically conductive yarn may be used in an individual sensor region 402 and/or a lead element 402 a or 402 b. Of course, any desired number of leads and/or interconnection of lead elements may be provided in an individual fabric or garment structure without departing from this invention.

Electrical connection between the various yarns of the sensor region 402, between the yarns of the sensor region 402 and the lead lines 402 a and 402 b, and/or along the length of the individual lead lines 402 a and 402 b may be made, for example, through the selection of various yarns and the interconnecting and looping features of a knitted or other interlooping structure, as illustrated, for example, in FIGS. 3A through 31, particularly when electrically conductive material is exposed on the yarn's exterior surface. Appropriate electrical connections also may be provided via selection of yarns at appropriate locations in a weave or other structure as shown in FIGS. 2A through 2E, particularly when electrically conductive material is exposed on the yarn's exterior surface.

By providing the electrical conductive yarns for the sensor region(s) and the lead element(s) directly in the garment structure (by contacting the yarns with one another), there is no need for mechanical, chemical, and/or other types of interconnections within the sensor region, within the conductive network, and/or between the sensor region (e.g., functioning as an electrode) and the conductive network (e.g., the lead elements). Rather, these interconnections can be made directly through interconnections between the yarns in the overall fabric or garment construction (if desired, however, other physical interconnections can be created). The use of this knitted interconnection without the presence of separate mechanical and/or chemical connections (which tend to break or breakdown, e.g., in use, in laundry cycles, etc.), provides a very comfortable, light, aesthetically pleasing, durable, and reliable interconnection that may be readily and automatically produced during the garment or fabric production process (e.g., during knitting on a Shima Seiki Whole Garment Machine or other appropriate knitting or fabric constructing system). This knitted or woven interconnection feature also is very useful for providing automatable, continuous, large scale, reproducible, and/or repeatable fabric/garment production systems and methods.

Also, by integrating the sensor regions in the yarns that make up the garment structure, instead of attaching an electrode fabric to the conductive network of a T-shirt as is known, the entire garment may be made, including the integrated sensor regions and leads, in one process, e.g., using the Shima Seiki Whole Garment Machine. These aspects of the invention can be advantageous for various reasons: (a) there is no need for the sensor electrode to be separately attached to the data network for monitoring; (b) there is less probability of loose connections between the electrode sensor and the data network (e.g., the leads); (c) there is less probability of sensor electrode and data network breakdown due to mechanical failure; (d) these is less probability of the sensor electrode not transmitting electrical signals to the electronics hub; and (e) there is a minimal differential on movement of yarns due to push and pull forces on the garment or fabric structure.

As shown in the close up view of FIG. 4C, the sensor region 402 in this example structure actually has four independent electrically conductive lead lines made from electrically conductive yarn extending from it: (a) one line 402 a(1) extending from the top, right side of the sensor region 402 toward the bottom of the figure, (b) one line 402 a(2) extending from the bottom, right side of the sensor region 402 toward the bottom of the figure, (c) one line 402 b(1) extending from the bottom, left side of the sensor region 402 toward the bottom of the figure, and (d) one line 402 b(2) extending from the top, left side of the sensor region 402 toward the bottom of the figure. Of course, any number of lead lines may be provided from a given sensor region 402 without departing from this invention, and the lead lines 402 a and 402 b may electrically connect to the sensor region 402 at any desired location(s) (e.g., through the interlooping of yarns in the knitted fabric structure) without departing from this invention.

While region 402 above has been described as a “sensor region” or electrode region (which terms are used interchangeably in this specification), e.g., for receiving signals from the wearer's body or other sources, those skilled in the art will recognize, however, that the same type of electrically conductive knitted region may be provided as a “contact” region, e.g., for making contact with wires, input systems, transmitters, and/or other external equipment, e.g., to transfer electrical signals from the wearer's body to processing equipment. As a more specific example, if desired, in the example structure 400 shown in FIGS. 4A through 4C, the lead lines 402 a, 402 b, 404 a, and 404 b may extend to and terminate at one or more data transfer locations, at least some of which may be formed as a contact pad from knitted electrically conductive yarns, e.g., in a manner similar to region 402. An electrical conductor may engage this contact pad to transmit electrical signals to other equipment. Of course, other terminal points and/or structures for transferring electrical signals and/or data from the fabric or garment structure 400 to other storage, processing, and/or display systems are possible without departing from the invention, such as metallic snaps, cable couplings, other contact pads or pins, junction boxes, wireless or wired transmission systems, and the like. Also, if desired, one or more of the lead lines 402 a, 402 b, 404 a, and 404 b may extend and terminate at one or more processors, memory elements, or the like, or at input ports for such devices, optionally provided on board the fabric or garment structure.

FIGS. 5A through 5C illustrate examples of additional knitted or other integrated fabric sensor regions, electrode structures, contact elements, and the like that may be included in fabrics and/or garment structures in accordance with examples of this invention. In the example fabric structure 500 of FIG. 5A, the sensor region 502 is integrally formed as part of the fabric structure 500 using electrically conductive yarns, e.g., of one or more of the types described above. The sensor region 502 is connected at its top area to a lead line 504 and at its bottom area to a lead line 506. These lead lines 504 and 506, which also are formed from electrically conductive yarns and are integrated into and integrally formed as part of the fabric structure, extend away from the sensor region to separate terminal points 508 and 510, respectively. Electrical connection between the areas of the sensor region 502, between the sensor region 502 and the leads 504 and 506, and along the length of leads 504 and 506, is established via the contact and/or interlooping features of the woven or knitted fabric structure 500. If desired, the lead lines 504 and 506 could terminate at a single terminal point. The terminal points 508 and 510 may constitute the same or different type structures, and they may include, for example, a knitted or other contact pad (e.g., for connection to an external device); metallic snaps; cable couplings; contact pins; junction boxes; input systems for wireless or wired transmission systems, processors, memory elements, or the like; etc. These termination points 508 and/or 510 may be provided as part of the fabric structure 500, attached to the fabric structure 500, or separate from the fabric structure 500 without departing from the invention. The example structure of FIG. 5A has some advantages because two independent lead lines 504 and 506 carry the signals collected by the sensor region 502, thereby providing some redundancy or duplicity, e.g., in the event that one lead line 504 or 506 breaks, becomes interrupted, or otherwise loses its ability to carry electricity and/or provide data to its respective termination point 508 or 510.

The material 512 surrounding the sensor region 502 and/or the lead lines 504 and 506 may be made in any desired construction and/or from any desired material without departing from the invention. In some examples, the yarns of material 512 will directly engage with and couple to the yarns of the sensor region 502 and the lead lines 504 and 506 during the knitting process to thereby form an integral fabric structure 500. The yarns of material 512 may have any desired properties, including, for example, good comfort, fit, feel, hand, air permeability, moisture absorption, sweat wicking, stretchability, flexibility, abrasion resistance, processibility, etc. Preferably, in at least some examples, this material 512 will be electrically insulative. Also, in at least some examples, at least some of the material 512 will be made from a stretchable material (such as from a yarn including a spandex or other elastic component) to provide a tight, form-fitting garment or fabric structure 500 that will maintain close contact of the sensor region 502 to a wearer's body (if this feature is desired). As another example, if desired, the material 512 immediately surrounding the lead lines 504 and 506 and/or sensor region 502 may be formed as a sewing strip or other structure, e.g., to enable easy attachment of the fabric structure 500 to another element, such as another overall part of a garment structure, to the interior and/or exterior of an existing garment structure, etc.

The material 514 between the lead lines 504 and 506 also may have any desired construction and/or may be made from any desired materials without departing from this invention, including from insulative or conductive yarns, from stretchable yarns, etc.

FIG. 5B illustrates a different sensor/lead arrangement in a fabric structure 520 that includes a knitted or other integrated sensor region 502 and two knitted or other integrated lead lines 504 and 506 formed from electrically conductive yarns in the manners described above. In this example fabric structure 520, however, the lead lines 504 and 506 extend in opposite directions from the sensor region 502. Of course, the various lead lines may extend from a sensor region 502 in any desired directions without departing from this invention. By providing lead lines 504 and 506 running in different directions, as shown in FIG. 5B, if the fabric structure 520 is compromised on one side of the sensor region 502 (e.g., due to tearing, cutting, or penetration of the fabric structure 520, etc.), one lead line (504 or 506) also may be compromised (and thus not able to provide electrical signals to its respective termination point 508 or 510). Nonetheless, the other lead line may remain uncompromised and available to transfer data from the sensor region 502 to its termination point for further processing and display.

Another example sensor/lead arrangement in a fabric structure 530 is shown in FIG. 5C. In this example, the sensor region includes two independent knitted sensor elements 502 a and 502 b electrically connected to one another by one or more knitted leads 502 c (any number may be used without departing from the invention). Like the example shown in FIG. 5B, the knitted lead lines 504 and 506 extend in opposite directions and terminate at separate termination points 508 and 510 (although other arrangements are possible). In this example structure 530, the sensor elements 502 a and 502 b are provided relatively close to one another to enable them to pick up the same electrical (or other) signal from the wearer's body or other source. This feature provides some redundancy and duplicity in monitoring a given parameter, e.g., in the event that one sensor element 502 a or 502 b does not function or receive the signal for some reason, such as due to the presence of a fold or other feature separating the sensor element from the wearer's body, due to the presence of an additional garment or debris between the sensor element and the wearer's body, etc., the other sensor may remain functional and available to receive and transmit the signal.

Of course, the additional fabric 512 may extend to any length, in any desired shape or form, without departing from the invention, e.g., to form a belt, garment, blanket, or other desired structures, or portion thereof. Also, while the above description of FIGS. 5A through 5C has mentioned knitted structures (e.g., for the sensor regions, leads, etc.), those skilled in the art will appreciate, as described above, that the various electrically conductive regions for sensor regions, leads, electrodes, contacts, and the like also may be integrated and formed into the garment structure by other fabric construction methods without departing from this invention, such as by weaving. Also, all of these elements may be made in any desired sizes or dimensions, at any desired locations, without departing from this invention.

D. Garment and Other Product Constructions

FIGS. 6A and 6B illustrate the front and back, respectively, of an example garment structure 600 in accordance with some examples of the invention in the form of an upper torso garment (e.g., a T-shirt, bra, or other garment that covers at least a portion of the upper torso). As shown, in this structure 600, two electrode elements 602 a and 602 b (e.g., knitted sensor regions of the types described above) are provided in the upper chest area (e.g., for monitoring heart rate, EKG, etc.). A lead line 604 from electrode element 602 a extends down the right side of the garment 600 and then across the garment's lower front to a terminal point 606 at the garment's left side. A lead line 608 from electrode element 602 b extends to and then down the garment's left side to terminate at terminal point 610.

Two additional electrode elements 620 a and 620 b are located in the lower portion of this example garment structure 600, one electrode 620 a on the garment's front and one electrode 620 b on the garment's back. A lead line 622 from electrode element 620 a extends across the garment's front to its left side and ends at terminal point 624. A lead line 626 from electrode element 620 b extends across the garment's rear to its left side and ends at terminal point 628. The use of knitted and integrated electrode (or sensor) elements and their associated lead lines, and incorporating these elements directly into the yarn forming the garment structure 600 in a manner in accordance with this invention, enables production of a comfortable, flexible garment, optionally a seamless, form-fitting, and/or one-piece garment (e.g., if formed on a Shima Seiki Whole Garment Machine by a knitting process, e.g., using at least some elastomeric yarns) with very flexible placement of the sensor elements, lead lines, terminal points, etc. In this illustrated example, the lead lines extend, where necessary, along the garment 600 sides, front, and/or back, and all terminate at the left side location, to enable connection to input elements, wires, cables, transmitters, and/or any other desired processing equipment, or the like, at this closely located side location.

Of course, any desired number and/or placement of sensor elements and/or lead lines may be provided in a garment structure without departing from this invention, e.g., based on the selection of specific yarns (e.g., electrically conductive yarns or non-electrically conductive yarns) for specific garment locations during a knitting or other fabric or garment production process. FIGS. 7A and 7B illustrate another example garment structure 700. In this garment structure, knitted electrode or sensor regions 702 a and 702 b are provided on the garment's shoulder areas, and the knitted lead lines 704 and 706, respectively, from these electrode regions 702 a and 702 b extend across the garment shoulders and down its sides, and where necessary, across its front and/or rear, to terminate at terminal points 606 and 610, respectively. Again, in this example structure, all of the lead line terminal points 606, 610, 624, and 628 are located on one side of the garment structure 700. Of course, other terminal point placement locations and/or arrangements, as well as lead line extension directions and/or locations, may be used without departing from this invention. Electrode arrangements at the shoulder location, as illustrated in this example structure 700, can be particularly useful in upper torso garments (such as T-shirts, bras, and the like), because contact between the garment and body at the shoulder area is relatively reliable, even if the garment 700 is somewhat loose fitting, e.g., due to gravity. Also, this shoulder based electrode arrangement can be useful for garments designed for use by users that typically wear backpacks or haul equipment having shoulder straps of some type (as the weight of the equipment can help maintain stable contact between the electrodes and the wearer's body).

As noted above, garment structures in accordance with various examples of this invention may be constructed to include an elastomeric yarn so as to provide a relatively tight, form-fitting garment. The elastomeric yarn, however, need not be distributed throughout all portions of the garment structure. FIG. 8 illustrates an example of such a garment structure 800. As shown, the garment structure 800 includes various sensor or electrode regions 602 a, 602 b, and 620 a with lead lines 604, 608, and 622, respectively, terminating at terminal points 606, 610, and 624, respectively, as generally shown in the example garment structure 600 of FIG. 6A. In this garment structure 800, the bulk of the garment 800 is formed from a relatively low stretch yarn material 802, such as cotton, polyester, etc. (e.g., conventional T-shirt material). At and around the locations of the sensor regions 602 a, 602 b, and 620 a, however, the garment structure 800 is formed to include a highly elastic yarn material 804, such as a yarn including a spandex component, so as to provide a tight fit and stretchability at these areas. This stretchability feature at the electrode areas can help maintain the sensor regions 602 a, 602 b, and 620 a in contact with the wearer's body at the desired locations and help prevent undesired movement of the garment structure 800 and/or electrodes 602 a, 602 b, and 620 a with respect to the wearer's body. Using knitting technology, as described above, yarns for the various sensor regions 602 a, 602 b, and 620 a, lead lines 604, 608, and 622, bulk material 802, and stretch material 804 can be selected at appropriate locations to integrate these various different materials, constructions, and areas into a single, integrated structure (optionally, as a seamless, continuous, and/or one piece construction). While it may do so, the elastomeric regions need not extend continuously and/or entirely around garment structure 800.

FIG. 9 illustrates an example garment structure 900, e.g., similar to that shown in FIG. 6A, but with various redundancy or duplicity characteristics included therein. As shown, in this example structure each electrode region (902, 904, and 906) includes two separate electrode sub-regions or elements (902 a, 902 b, 904 a, 904 b, 906 a, and 906 b). The electrode sub-regions (902 a, 902 b, 904 a, 904 b, 906 a, and 906 b) are electrically connected to one another by lead lines (902 c, 904 c, and 906 c, respectively), and the regions 902, 904, and 906 are connected to their respective terminals 606, 610, and 624 via their associated lead lines 604, 608, and 622, respectively. Of course, other lead or electrical connections and/or arrangements are possible without departing from this invention. For example, if desired, any or all of the sub-regions (902 a, 902 b, 904 a, 904 b, 906 a, and 906 b) may be separately connected to its respective lead lines (604, 608, and 622, respectively). As another example, if desired, any or all of the sub-regions (902 a, 902 b, 904 a, 904 b, 906 a, and 906 b) may be connected to their respective terminals 606, 610, and 624 or to different terminals along different lead lines or along different lead lines for at least some portion of the connection to the terminal. Other variations also are possible.

FIGS. 10A and 10B illustrate another example upper torso garment structure 1000, in this instance, in the form of a sports bra. Again, this garment structure 1000 may be made by knitting or other garment forming processes, optionally, as a seamless, one-piece, stretchable garment structure by selecting appropriate yarns, e.g., using a Shima Seiki Whole Garment Machine. While any desired number of sensor elements may be located at any desired position in the garment structure 1000 (e.g., depending on the physical and/or physiological parameter(s) being monitored, the intended end use, etc.) and electrically connected in any desired manner, in this illustrated example, the garment structure 1000 includes two sensor elements 1002 and 1004 arranged in an elastic band portion 1006 along the bottom front of the garment structure 1000. Alternatively, if desired, the band portion 1006 may be formed as a separate piece that is attached to the upper portion 1008 of the garment structure 1000, e.g., by sewing, etc.

As described above, the sensor elements 1002 and 1004 may be formed as an integral part of the band portion 1006, e.g., by knitting the sensor elements 1002 and 1004 from electrically conductive yarns along with the yarn making up the remainder of the band portion 1006 and/or the upper portion 1008. Also, in this illustrated example, two lead lines (1010 a, 1010 b, 1012 a, and 1012 b) extend from each sensor element 1002 and 1004, respectively, to a termination point 1014 and 1016, respectively. The termination points 1014 and 1016 in this example structure 1000 constitute input ports, contact pads, contact pins, or the like, for an electronic module 1018. The electronic module 1018 may be permanently incorporated into and/or attached to the garment structure 1000, it may be removably attached to the garment structure 1000, and/or it may constitute a part of or include another device or piece of equipment (such as a physical or physiological parameter monitor device, display device, alarm, processor system, transmitter/receiver system, etc.). Also, the electronic module 1018 may perform any desired functions without departing from this invention, including, for example: converting an electrical signal to data or information relating to a physical or physiological parameter; processing data associated with a measured physical or physiological parameter (e.g., based on the electrical (or other) signal received by the sensor elements 1002 and 1004 and carried along the leads 1010 a, 1101 b, 1012 a, and 1012 b); storing data or information associated with a measured physical or physiological parameter; transmitting data or information associated with a measured physical or physiological parameter (e.g., via wireless technology, wires, cables, etc.), e.g., to further processing, storage, alarm, or display systems, etc.; displaying data or information associated with a measured physical or physiological parameter; etc.

While the sensor regions 1002 and 1004, lead lines 1010 a, 1010 b, 1012 a, and 1012 b, and terminal points 1014 and 1016 all are shown as part of the band portion 1006 in this illustrated example, those skilled in the art will recognize, of course, that any or all of these elements (and/or additional elements) may be provided at any desired location in the garment structure 1000, including in the upper portion 1008 and/or in any desired combination of the upper portion 1008 and/or the band portion 1006. The upper portion 1008 may be made of any desired materials and/or yarns, and in at least some examples, it may include knitted or other sensor regions, e.g., of the types described above, as well as lead lines, for example, in one or more of the front chest portion 1020, in the upper shoulder strap portions 1022, on the back portion 1024, along the side portion(s), etc.

Other fabric and/or garment constructions also are possible without departing from this invention. For example, as illustrated in FIG. 11A, a dual layer fabric (or garment) structure 1100 may be produced in accordance with at least some examples of this invention. A dual layer fabric structure 1100 includes an interior fabric layer 1102 and an exterior fabric layer 1104, optionally with an interior area 1106 defined between the layers 1102 and 1104. The interior and exterior layers 1102 and 1104 may be joined together in any desired manner without departing from the invention, for example, by sewing (or otherwise joining) separate and distinct layers 1102 and 1104 together with one another; by integrally forming the fabric structure 1100 in this manner (e.g., during a knitting process by interlooping yarn from the inner fabric layer 1102 and/or the outer fabric layer 1104 to the opposite layer across the interior area 1106, by applying a new yarn in the interior area 1106 to join layers 1102 and 1104, etc.); etc.

Electrically conductive yarns may be located independently in the interior fabric layer 1102 and the exterior fabric layer 1104 at any desired locations in the fabric structure 1100 without departing from the invention. FIG. 11B illustrates an example dual layer garment structure 1110 in which a band of electrically conductive material 1112 (e.g., a band at least partially formed from electrically conductive yarn knitted into the structure 1110 along with the fabric layer 1104) is provided in the exterior fabric layer 1104 and a band of electrically conductive material 1114 (e.g., a band at least partially formed from electrically conductive yarn knitted into the structure 1110 along with the fabric layer 1102) is provided in the interior fabric layer 1102 at the same or substantially the same location as the exterior layer 1104 band 11 12. See also FIG. 11C. Therefore, in the finally finished garment structure 1110, the two conductive bands 1112 and 1114 will at least partially overlap one another. If the interior area 1106 between the two conductive bands 1112 and 1114 is filled with an insulative material (e.g., insulative yarn, air, etc.), a measurable capacitance can be developed across the conductive band layers 1112 and 1114. A change in this interior area 1106 (e.g., a change in the distance “x,” a change in material within area 1106, the presence of additional air or moisture, etc.) will result in a change in the capacitance of the garment 1110, which change can be measured, processed, displayed, and/or otherwise used by physical or physiological parameter monitoring systems according to the invention.

One example application for garment systems of the types described in FIGS. 11A through 11C relates to hospital gowns, incontinence garments, diapers, bedding, and the like. By monitoring the capacitance across the dual layer fabric structure 1110 and noting changes in capacitance, a nurse station or other care giver can be advised when a patient has soiled his/her clothing or bedding (e.g., due to the presence of water soaking through to the interior area 1106 of the fabric structure 1110, thereby changing the measured capacitance). Of course, a wide variety of other potential uses and applications for such dual layered fabrics are possible.

FIG. 12 illustrates another example dual layer garment structure 1200 having an interior fabric layer 1202 and an exterior fabric layer 1204. In this example structure 1200, both the interior layer 1202 and exterior layer 1204 include separate sets of knitted sensor regions (e.g., regions 1206 a, 1206 b, 1206 c, 1208 a, 1208 b, 1208 c), knitted leads (e.g., 1210 a, 1210 b, 1210 c, 1212 a, 1212 b, 1212 c), and terminal points (1214 a, 1214 b, 1214 c, 1216 a, 1216 b, 1216 c), but the various sensor regions and leads do not necessarily line up with one another. With such a dual layer structure 1200, the interior sensor regions 1206 a through 1206 c may be used to monitor one or more parameters or sets of parameters (e.g., EKG, heart rate, body temperature, etc.) while the exterior sensor regions 1208 a through 1208 c may be used to monitor one or more other parameters or sets of parameters (e.g., radiation dose rate or exposure, exterior temperature, chemical exposure, etc.). The parameter(s) measured by the interior and exterior sensor regions may be the same, may overlap, may partially overlap, or may be completely different, without departing from this invention.

E. Data Handling Systems and Methods

FIG. 13A illustrates example physical and/or physiological monitoring systems 1300 and methods according to this invention. As illustrated in FIG. 13A, the systems 1300 may include a fabric or garment structure 1302 including one or more sensor regions (generally shown as 1304) and one or more lead lines (generally shown as 1306) integrally formed in the garment structure 1302, e.g., during knitting or weaving of the fabric structure 1302 by selective inclusion of electrically conductive threads, as described above). As also described above, the lead line(s) 1306 extend to one or more terminal points 1308. The terminal points 1308 may take on a wide variety of different forms without departing from this invention, including, for example: a snap, pin, contact, plug, or other connector that will enable connection to a wire, cable, or other device; a contact or pad element integrally formed in the garment structure 1302 from electrically conductive yarns (e.g., similar to the various electrode or sensor regions 1304 described above); an input to an electronic module 1310, such as a processing system, memory device, transmitter/receiver system, or other electronic device, etc. When present, as illustrated in FIG. 13A, the electronic module 1310 may be attached to, adhered to, or otherwise engaged with the fabric structure 1302, it may be separate from the fabric structure 1302 (and optionally carried by the fabric user), it may be partially engaged with the fabric structure 1302 and partially separate therefrom, etc. Either one of or the combination of the terminal point 1308 (if any) and/or the electronic module 1310 (if any) may be considered a “data transfer system” in at least some example monitoring systems 1300 and methods of this invention, e.g., the terminal point 1308 and/or electronic module 1310 receives a first signal from the sensor region(s) 1304 via the lead(s) 1306 and transfers a first information signal (which includes the first signal or information derived, at least in part, from the first signal) to another location or device, including a separate processing or monitoring device or station, an alarm, a monitor, a display, etc.

In this illustrated example, the data transfer system (e.g., including terminal point 1308 and/or electronic module 1310) transfers the electrical (or other) signal or data or information derived at least in part from the electrical (or other) signal to a further processing system 1312 via a wired connection 1314 (e.g., a wire, cable, etc.). This transfer may be accomplished in any desired manner and/or through any desired number of devices, networks, systems, or the like without departing from this invention, including over the Internet; over telephone lines; over LANs, WANs, or other networks; through a direct cable or wire connection (as shown in FIG. 13A); etc. Any desired transmission protocols, systems, and methods may be used without departing from the invention, including various known and conventional transmission protocols, systems, and methods.

FIG. 13B illustrates another example physical and/or physiological monitoring system 1320 and method. In this example system 1320, however, rather than a wired connection 1314, the electric (or other) signal or data or information derived from the electrical (or other) signal measured by the sensor region(s) 1302 is transferred to the processing system 1312 via a wireless connection (illustrated by transmitter/receiver elements 1322 and 1324 and the general wireless connection indicator 1326). Any desired wireless transmission protocols, systems, and methods may be used without departing from the invention, including various known and conventional wireless transmission protocols, systems, and methods, such as broadcast protocols, systems, and methods, (e.g., TCP-IP, UDP, etc.); cellular telephone protocols, systems, and methods; AM/FM or other radio protocols, systems, or methods; etc.

The transmitter/receiver elements 1322 and 1324 may be located at any desired positions or locations within the overall system 1320 without departing from the invention. For example, if desired, transmitter/receiver element 1322 may be engaged with the fabric structure 1302, or it may be physically separate from that structure (and optionally carried by the fabric 1302 wearer). The transmitter/receiver element 1324 may be included as an integral part of processing system 1312, or it may be a separate hardware element operatively coupled to the processing system 1312.

The processing system 1312 may perform any desired functions and/or operate on any desired type of input signal, data, or information without departing from this invention, and this system 1312 may constitute any device using data or information based on the measured data from sensor regions 1302, such as; audio, textual, and/or video display devices; measuring devices; electric signal or data processing devices; audio, textual, or video alarm devices; data or signal transmission devices; etc. Also, the processing system 1312 may take on any desired form without departing from this invention, including, for example: a computer workstation, such as a PC (as shown in FIG. 13A); a monitor or display device; an alarm buzzer, bell, light, or other device; a personally carried device (including personally carried by the wearer or user of the fabric 1302), such as watches, cellular telephones, PDAs, MP3 players, portable audio or video player devices, beepers, pagers, handheld personal computers, and the like; video monitor or display devices; a part of a nurse's or other health care worker's monitoring station, a first responder tracking station, etc; and the like.

Also, if desired, processing system 1312 may be used to send signals to other devices 1330, such as warning devices, user-carried display and/or alarm devices (like those mentioned above), and the like. This may be accomplished by any desired type of connection, protocol, system, or method, including the various types described above in conjunction with transmission of data or signals to the processing system 1312. This connection is shown generally in FIGS. 13A and 13B by connection element 1332.

Additionally, if desired, the same connections that provide output from the sensors 1304 to the processing system 1312 can be used to provide input data and/or information to any devices included with the fabric 1302 (e.g., to any programmable or other electronic devices, such as module 1310). This input ability can be used for any purpose, e.g., to control or activate memory and/or processors in module 1310 and/or included on fabric 1302.

III. Conclusion

The present invention is described above and in the accompanying drawings with reference to a variety of example structures, features, elements, and combinations of structures, features, and elements. The purpose served by the disclosure, however, is to provide examples of the various features and concepts related to the invention, not to limit the scope of the invention. One skilled in the relevant art will recognize that numerous variations and modifications may be made to the embodiments described above without departing from the scope of the present invention, as defined by the appended claims. For example, the various features and concepts described above in conjunction with FIGS. 1A through 13B may be used individually and/or in any combination or subcombination without departing from this invention.

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Classifications
U.S. Classification139/388, 600/388, 600/389
International ClassificationD03D3/02
Cooperative ClassificationD04B21/16, D10B2331/04, D04B1/14, D10B2201/24, D10B2201/02, D10B2321/041, D02G3/441, D10B2321/021, D10B2101/20, D10B2331/02, A41D13/1281, D10B2401/061, D03D15/08, D03D15/0027, D10B2501/00, D10B2501/02, D04B1/246, D03D1/0088, D10B2403/02431, D03D15/00, D03D15/0083, D10B2401/16, D03D15/0061, A41D1/002
European ClassificationD04B21/16, D03D1/00G, D02G3/44A, D03D15/00, D04B1/14
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Sep 25, 2006ASAssignment
Owner name: SENSATEX, INC., MARYLAND
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNOR:SHARMA, VIKRAM;REEL/FRAME:018299/0134
Effective date: 20060921