Late stages of pregnancy can be both safe and styling, if researchers at Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pa., have their way. Drexel’s Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center has combined fashion and function in a prototype belly band that can monitor uterine contractions and fetal heart rate in real time. The band, produced in the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Lab at ExCITe, could be used to monitor high-risk pregnancies, women near their due dates and women who prefer a quick, non-invasive substitute for routine check-ups.
Genevieve Dion, fashion design professor and director of the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Lab, used software and computerized knitting machines to incorporate electrically conductive thread into her garments. “Knitting fabrication holds remarkable potential for innovative and customizable design solutions,” says Dion. The knitting machines create a pattern across the center of the belly band that serves as a wireless, passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tag. From there, signal processing algorithms process the changes in received signals from the RFID to measure the intensity of uterine contractions and other information. For women with high-risk pregnancies, remote monitoring could alleviate frequent and invasive clinic visits—and some of the fear of unexpected problems. The prototype goes into clinical trials this summer.