Sept. 23 - A blanket made of conductive fabrics and featuring more than 100 sensors linked to a computer could offer a more comfortable hospital experience for future patients, according to its Toronto-based creators. Ben Gruber reports.
Imagine a blanket that can tell how well you are sleeping.. For Researcher Rodolphe El-Khoury and his team at the University of Toronto that idea is starting to take form. The researchers are developing IM Blanky - a next generation smart blanket woven with conductive fibers and sensors. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR RODOLPHE EL-KHOURY, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, SAYING: "It's just a blanket, it has a nice pattern, it comes in different colours, it could work very well with your decorative scheme in your bedroom, you use it, you don't have to worry about about it, you don't have to calibrate it, you don't have to program it, it's all there, it's not threatening, it doesn't look like a medical device." But according to Carol Moukheiber, another member of the design team, that is exactly what IM Blanky will be. A new version of the smart blanket will not only be equipped with sensors that will be monitor the vital signs of patients in hospital but also track their movements during sleep. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CAROL MOUKHEIBER, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, SAYING: "This is the second version of the Blanky that we're currently working on and we're pretty excited about it because we're taking the same concepts that we developed in the first Blanky, namely the ability of the blanket to know its position and space, but we're developing with a specific user in mind and in a way our collaborators in this is the health industry and we have some faculty that are interested in sleep disorders and monitoring sleep disorders." The blanket his made up of 104 fabric sensors designed to look like flowers all connected to form a network. Using conductive thread, these network grids cover the entire blanket which can upload its movement to a computer in real time. El-Khoury believes that in the future materials we use to weave clothing or build surfaces will all have some level of smart capability. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR RODOLPHE EL-KHOURY, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, SAYING: "Eventually every single object around us in our household will be embedded with some kind of technology, some kind of computational capacity for communicating with other objects, an IP address, etc. This is how things are going but we want to make, we are trying to look into this process and try to find ways to integrate this new technology in an interesting and also aesthetic way." El-Khoury wants to make sure that beauty of design isn't lost in the rush to incorporate new technology. He says the ability to monitor blood pressure and temperature in real time isn't worth much if you can't cuddle up with a warm welcoming blanket for a good night's sleep.