Tactile Pressure Sensors: A Perfect Fit for Clothing Design

Though it might not be obvious to the casual observer, the clothing worn by Olympic and professional athletes can be as sophisticated and technologically advanced as anything else in their toolbox. Beyond simply making the athletes look good or protecting them from the elements, their outfits are often engineered to perform specific functions for their sport - such as reducing drag or optimizing muscle use.

This highlights a general trend that goes beyond high-level athletic competitions: People are demanding more and more of their clothing, not just in terms of fit—which they expect to be perfect—but also in terms of functionality. And tactile pressure sensing technology can play a key role in helping manufacturers in the race to meet these demands.

Ensuring correct fit and performance of all types of clothing, from highly advanced athletic wear to supportive undergarments  requires accurate and reliable techniques. User fit testing is an important but inefficient part of the clothing design process, as people generally can only detect low, static pressures on a qualitative level. A tactile pressure sensor, on the other hand, could capture and quantify the pressures exerted by specific clothing designs, thus making it possible to scientifically optimize both fit and function.

Capacitive tactile pressure sensing technology is well suited to this task for many reasons. Chief among them is the fact that it can accurately measure pressures at relatively low levels, as clothing fit often involves pressures of less than 1 psi. Another advantage is that capacitive tactile sensors can be soft, flexible, and conformable, which is a necessity when developing tight-fitting clothing. For more standardized, repeat testing, capacitive tactile pressure sensors can be embedded in mannequins or sewn into straps that go between the clothing and a mannequin or human testers during the development process.

Of course, the potential of capacitive tactile pressure sensors to augment clothing design does not end with athletic gear; there’s an entire range of functions that can be supported.

Consider, for example, bras, an area in which proper fit is crucial; a tactile pressure sensor-equipped mannequin could be one solution for companies aiming to improve bra design. Another logical use for tactile pressure sensing technology would be in the area of shape-wear, garments that are designed to hold various parts of the body in such a way as to modify and ostensibly improve the wearer’s appearance. Quantifying pressures would be a crucial element of creating shape-wear that is just tight enough in the right places to create the desired effect without being excessively constrictive.

Pressure Profile Systems (PPS) demonstrated this principle when asked by a diaper manufacturer to help devise a method for verifying the fit of diapers, another wearable product in which striking a precise balance between tightness (to ensure a proper seal) and comfort is key. PPS incorporated conformable tactile sensing technology into sensing bands that could go around the waist and legs of a baby-shaped mannequin, thus enabling the manufacturer to measure the pressures applied by its diapers.

Tactile pressure sensor technology could also assist in the development of garments that have medical applications, like compression stockings meant to treat and prevent deep-vein thrombosis, a complication that often involves the formation of potentially serious blood clots in the lower leg and calf. Additionally, it could be useful for companies that make the elastic tape that some athletes use to support their muscles.

Ultimately, as clothing design becomes more sophisticated, it will be asked to do much more than simply cover our bodies. Capacitive tactile pressure sensing technology is a perfect fit for manufacturers looking to keep up with this trend.

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