Minding Your Own Medical Business
Clothes Make the Man (Healthier)
Simplicity, information, and affordability are also the driving
forces behind Sundaresan Jayaraman's research at the Georgia Institute of
Jayaraman, PhD, a professor of textile engineering at Georgia
Tech, has been working on the smart shirt. This item of clothing contains a
plug-in sensor that unobtrusively monitors a person's heart rate, ECG,
respiration, temperature, and a host of vital functions, alerting the wearer or
his physician if there is a problem.
One of the first applications for the product will be for
babies at risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), Jayaraman says, and for
patients who need around-the-clock monitoring, such as very ill geriatric and
heart-bypass patients. But eventually he sees everyone wearing them -- and
predicts they'll even come with lifestyle-enhancing options, like an MP3 player
or a dictation machine.
Driving Jayaraman's research, he says, is his love -- and
concern -- for his aging parents.
"One of the things I worry about is my parents who live in
India," he says. "I want to be able to give them some shirts and
monitor their health from Georgia Tech. That way I feel secure that they are in
great shape. Should something happen to them, automatically it calls their
personal physician and I am also notified, so whatever needs to be done can be
Like the smart home, the beauty of the shirt lies in its ease
"My philosophy is: When you use a microwave oven, you just
put in coffee and punch in a time; you don't have to know about what the
microprocessor does," he says. "My ultimate goal is to turn clothing in
something like that: You don't have to be an expert in either clothing
technology or computing technology -- just put it on, and it does what you want
it to do, under your control. This is what I call invisible computing."
And the learning curve needs to be a shallow one.
"When I am sick, do you expect me to use a manual to learn
how to use a gadget? It needs to be intuitively obvious to the casual
observer," says Jayaraman. "We need our medical gadgets to head in that
While many of these devices sound promising, only time will
tell if they destined to be embraced by the masses and the marketplace -- or if
they'll end up gathering dust in Minneapolis, in the Museum of Questionable