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Victor Rogers, Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech researchers develop first "woven computer"

Garment can detect if a soldier has been shot and monitor vital signs

ATLANTA (November 14, 1997)-- The old military standard issue T-shirt and dog tags are taking on new meaning and could someday save a life on the battlefield, thanks to a new "woven computer" designed by the Georgia Institute of Technology, under contract with the U.S. Department of Navy. The "Sensate Liner for Combat Casualty Care" uses optical fibers to detect bullet wounds, and special fibers to monitor health vital signs during combat conditions.

To use this new technology, a combat soldier attaches sensors to his body, pulls the Sensate Liner T-shirt on, and attaches the sensors to the T-shirt. The T-shirt actually functions like a computer, with plastic optical fibers and conducting fibers woven throughout the actual fabric of the shirt. The truly unique aspect of this design is that there are no seams or "breaks" in the plastic optical fiber, which circumnavigates the T-shirt from top to bottom.

"The idea is to send a signal' from one end of the plastic optical fiber to a receiver at the other end," said Dr. Sundaresan Jayaraman, a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Textile and Fiber Engineering and the principal investigator of the project. "If the light from one end does not reach the other end, we know the Sensate Liner has been penetrated (i.e., the soldier has been shot)." A signal bounces back to the first receiver from the point of penetration, helping the medical personnel pinpoint the exact location of the soldier's wound.

The receiver is a Personal Status Monitor (PSM)--the 21st century version of a dog-tag-- and is worn at hip-level by the soldier. In a combat situation, the plastic optical fiber senses the penetration of a bullet and sends the information of the break in the plastic optical fiber to the PSM. The soldier's vital signs -- heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, etc. -- are monitored in two ways: through the sensors woven into the T-shirt; and through the sensors on the soldier's body, both of which are connected to the PSM. Information on the wound and the soldier's condition is immediately transmitted electronically from the PSM to a medical triage unit somewhere near the battlefield. The triage unit then dispatches the appropriate medical personnel to the scene.

"The Sensate Liner can help a physician determine the extent of a soldier's injuries based on the strength of his heartbeat and respiratory rate," said Dr. Jayaraman. "This information is vital for assessing who needs assistance first during emergency situations in which there are numerous casualties."

In addition to military applications, the Sensate Liner holds potential for use by law enforcement personnel as well.

Focusing solely on the vital signs component of the Sensate Liner, other possible uses include:

The Sensate Liner, which is still in the development phase, is expected to cost between $25 and $35. Testing of a prototype is scheduled for next spring, in coordination with the U.S. Navy.

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