New ESA contract for Ohmatex: muscle monitoring body suit for astronauts

Ohmatex has been awarded a 350,000 euro  contract with the European space agency (ESA) to develop muscle monitoring exercise suits for astronauts on the International Space Station ISS. For the second time ESA has recognized Ohmatex’s expertise in integrating sensing technology into textiles and in our ability to work collaboratively with experts in sports physiology and biomedical research to produce meaningful measurements of muscle activity.

In near-zero gravity conditions, muscles deteriorate quickly unless they are exercised intensively. This is serious issue for astronauts who spend at least 2 hours working out every day whilst in space. In order to optimize the astronaut’s exercise programme, and ultimately reduce muscle degeneration, ESA is engaging Ohmatex to further develop a technology which measures the effect of the astronauts’ training exercises in space, and monitors the impact of weightlessness on the body.

To achieve this Ohmatex will be working closely with Marco Cardinale, Head of Research for Team GB in the 2012 Olympics, drawing on his extensive experience measuring muscle activation patterns in elite athletes, and with researchers and doctors at the department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Copenhagen. During the two year contract wearable monitoring technology will be developed and integrated into an exercise suit to be worn by astronauts during training. Following successful implementation the aim is that the garment will be used on the International Space Station (ISS) during exercise programmes.

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To gain a deeper insight into muscular activity 3 garment integrated sensor technologies will be combined: EMG sensors will detect muscle activation; NIRS sensors will detect changes in oxygen content in selected muscle groups and Plethysmography sensors will measure limb circumference as an indication of changes in muscle volume. The combined data will then be used to analyse muscle activity and optimise training.

The study will also generate new knowledge about fluid shifts in the legs, making the technology of interest in cases of heart and kidney failure and preeclampsia.

Not only is there exciting development work ahead for Ohmatex, but it also opens up commercial spin-off opportunities in telemedicine and health monitoring, where smart textiles are gaining ground by leaps and bounds.


Sensing t-shirt will make spinal braces more wearable

A new T-shirt with textile pressure sensors will increase the comfort and effectiveness of spinal braces worn by teenagers suffering from scoliosis. It is being developed by a leading French-Danish consortium, which includes Ohmatex.

Spinal scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine) occurs in almost 2% of teenagers, mainly girls, and spinal brace treatment is required for 15% of cases. However in approximately 25% of cases the braces fail to achieve the corrective effect, if they are not worn as prescribed, or if they are not fitted correctly due to errors at the design stage.

Braces that are ill-fitted are uncomfortable to wear and there is currently no feedback on how effective the braces are when they are being worn. Both factors can reduce teenagers’ motivation to wear them.

Spinal brace manufacturing process, Proteor.

Spinal brace manufacturing process, Proteor.

Proteor SAS, the market leader in France for spinal brace manufacturing and distribution, is collaborating with SMEs Texisense and Ohmatex ApS to improve the wearability and user experience for brace wearers and provide a revolutionary alternative to the ordinary treatment by spinal braces.

emBrace t-shirts will look and feel like a standard cotton t-shirt but the data provided by the integrated Texisense fabric pressure sensors will enable braces to be fitted more accurately from the outset and allow daily monitoring of the braces’ effectiveness. Increased comfort and daily monitoring has the potential to improve the compliance of teenagers, give valuable insight into the effectiveness of the treatment and increase the chances of spinal curvature correction.

Personalised brace design.

Personalised brace design.

The project was successfully submitted to the the European EuroStars™ programme with the help of the French consultancy firm Dynergie and was ranked 10th out of 215 eligible applications. The EuroStars™ programme is designed to enable innovative SMEs to collaborate with key market players to commercialise new technologies. 70 projects were chosen for funding in 2014.

The combination of Texisense’s unique fabric pressure sensors, Ohmatex’s expertise in textile connection technology and Proteor’s specialist knowledge and sales network, will result in a new ready-for-market innovation not currently provided by any other spinal brace manufacturer. This will be a first for the market and for scoliosis therapy and will create a breakthrough for both clinicians and their teenage patients.