NUS Spidey-like suit offers athletes new insights to boost performance

Spider-Man suit offers athletes new insights
The smartphone-powered suit featuring a design that resembles the motif on Spider-Man’s suit is designed by a team led by Assistant Professor John Ho (left). With him are two members of the research team, Dr Lin Rongzhou (centre) and Dr Kim Han-Joon (right) // Credit: National University of Singapore

Athletes seeking to push the limits of their performance may soon be able to reach for their own Spider-Man suit to unlock their super-performance. A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has developed a smartphone-powered suit that can track physiological data such as posture, running gait and body temperature while athletes are out on the field.

Assistant Professor John Ho from the NUS Institute for Health Innovation and Technology and his team at NUS designed the pattern of the web-like threads to relay electromagnetic signals from a nearby smartphone to sensors on the body as far as a metre away, providing power and data connectivity across the suit. Their work proved that it is possible to relay a smartphone’s near-field communication (NFC) signal to multiple locations on the body with specially designed inductive patterns.

“Our smart suit works with most modern smartphones, which act as both the source of power as well as the display to view the sensor data,” said Ho, who is also from NUS Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Smart suit for real-time monitoring

The sewn-on circuitry with inductive patterns provides hubs at strategic locations. Custom-made sensors placed at those hubs transmit data back to the smartphone. As they are powered by the smartphone’s NFC chip, no batteries are needed. This makes the suit lighter and less bulky than other worn monitors while enabling the collection of data from multiple areas on the body. 

The current prototype can support up to six sensors per smartphone while collecting information such as spinal posture, running gait and body temperature simultaneously. Among these functions, the ability to measure the spinal position across multiple nodes is most significant as spinal posture is an integral part of developing a solid athletic stance that is often overlooked as collecting real-time data has been challenging so far.

Good athletic stance can help to reduce the risk of injury and optimise performance. The smart suit can constantly monitor an athlete’s spinal posture to provide real-time data with minimal impact on their performance as it is wireless and lightweight.

Other potential applications would include clinical diagnoses of spinal disorders and round-the-clock health monitoring. Researchers and doctors can access the data transmitted to the smartphone via a custom-built application that can also alert the user if any potential issues such as overheating occur during physical activity.

Moving forward, Ho and his team plan to develop new sensors to increase the range of data collected and hope to work with professional athletes to help them to monitor their physiological signals during training.

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