Wearable Biopotential Technologies: An Exploration of Textile Based Biopotential Sensing Electrodes for an ECG Wearable Device
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Technology for the long-term monitoring of heart conditions in moving everyday environments has yet to be developed to a clinical standard for consumer users. This leaves a large gap in the ability to effectively diagnose certain heart conditions that present infrequently and outside of clinical settings. Increasingly, wearable technologies have developed to a point where they can begin to address this need. This research concerns the designs and fabrication of a wearable electrocardiogram (ECG) device using electronic textiles for long term monitoring of heart conditions. The wearable device uses different configurations of e-textiles to serve as both electrodes for signal monitoring and conductive traces and pads for interconnecting hard and soft components. These materials were used for their ability to be integrated into clothing and offer dry sensing, in lieu of the gel electrodes used in hospital settings. Additionally, processes like vacuum forming, injection moulding and overmolding were used in conjunction with these materials to produce novel forms and offer new ways to integrate materials. This research involves a multifaceted approach to design that is framed by a larger narrative around wearable design considerations and the interdisciplinary challenges that relate to them. Practice is grounded by a research through design approach, a form of research also known as action research, that offers an appropriate methodology for practical and collaborative elements of the research. While the practice did not produce a fully functional wearable ECG system, it did generate several promising functional component prototypes that could be further explored and integrated. These included innovations like embossed e-textile electrodes with moulded silicone gripping elements, and machine knitted belts with integrated soft circuits and overmolded silicone/e-textiles electrodes. These innovations address several challenges and considerations elaborated in the research. The overarching interdisciplinary discussion considers both group and individual phases of the research. It suggests that, in this example and more generally, the tension between wearability and technical efficacy remains a stumbling point in the research and design space. Considerations around how wearable projects could be planned and actioned more effectively are offered in the form of explicit design processes guides that account for both the scientific method and creative process as it relates to wearables. Suggestions are made on how these models might develop further to account for the level at which e-textiles are being integrated.