Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is every new parent's worst nightmare. To keep a close eye on a sleeping baby, some parents rely on a two-way baby monitor or move the crib into mommy and daddy's room. Others stay awake all night worrying and periodically checking on their infant.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration in Berlin propose a different solution: a suit that monitors a baby's breathing.
It looks like an ordinary “onesie” or “romper suit” but with a major difference: it has commercially available sensors integrated into the cloth. The circuit board for the sensors is printed on polyurethane, which is flexible, stretchable and comfortable for the child. The polyurethane circuit board is contained in a fabric cover that can be removed so that the jumper can be washed separately.
The sensors monitor the movement of the chest and stomach by checking both the distance between two points on the chest and responding to strain. If there is a problem -- if the rhythm of breathing or number of breaths is wrong -- it will sound an alarm. It isn't clear what kind of alarm would sound yet; current proposals are for some kind of visual and auditory alert. It's easy to imagine a wireless system firing off a signal to a smartphone.
The circuits themselves are made of ordinary materials and don’t need any specialized manufacturing methods, so the costs can be kept down. Since the electronics are mounted on the polyurethane sheets rather than being stitched into the fabric, it’s easier to place the components exactly where they need to be on the circuit board.
The idea is similar the Exmobaby suit that appeared early in 2012. The difference is the use of flexible electronics and that the Exmobaby’s ad copy says it’s designed to track emotional states, not operate as a true medical device.
There are still challenges to mass-producing the suit. One is that polyurethane tends to change shape during the manufacturing process. Even so a number of companies are testing out ways to build them cheaply.
Baby safety isn’t the only idea the Fraunhofer scientists came up with for their flexible electronics: they also looked at how to make pressure bandages that tell doctors and nurses where the best place to put them is, and even a bandage that can monitor the health of kidneys.
Credit: Fraunhofer Institute / VERHAERT Masters in Innovation