Stories about: smart clothing

Could clothing teach babies with brain injury how to move?

 

 

The seemingly random flailing of a newborn’s arms and legs is more important than it looks – it’s how babies begin to explore the physical world and their place in it. This motion-capture movie shows the normal kicking of a 5-month-old, but when a baby’s muscles are weakened by brain injury, this exploration is curtailed. It becomes a vicious cycle: the motor parts of the brain can’t develop properly, impairing mobility even further. Psychologist Eugene Goldfield, PhD, of the Center for Behavioral Science at Children’s Hospital Boston, with a team of engineers and scientists at the Wyss Institute, is in the early stages of a project that could help break this cycle for babies with cerebral palsy.

Goldfield calls it the “second skin” – smart clothing whose fabric, studded with tiny sensors, would pick up attempts at motion.

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Networking: the mother of invention

Infant kicking data being captured for the "second skin"

Two or three years ago, seeing all the children in wheelchairs coming to Children’s Hospital, I asked myself whether I might be able to contribute something tangible to help restore their mobility. A psychologist by training, I had published some academic articles on how young children become independently mobile. But I’ve also always liked to build things.

It became clear that anything I wanted to build would require skills I didn’t have. I envisioned a form-fitting, electronic garment that a child with a brain injury could wear to assist his or her biological muscles, teaching the brain how the body should move. How on earth could I get the money to build such a garment, and who could help me?

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