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Form, meet function

The future of tech is wearable

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Devices such as the Fitbit and Apple Watch may have transformed workout routines, but the next generation of wearable tech promises much more: improved sleep, instant communication with your doctor, and potentially saving your life (no, we’re not being dramatic). Innovative researchers at UMass have been hard at work turning the stuff of science fiction into wearable, washable garments and accessories that will revolutionize the way we live. Here’s a peek at a few in the pipeline.

Heart-Monitoring Vest

Lead researcher: Yeonsik Noh, assistant professor

Laboratory: Nursing Engineering Laboratory

Modeled by: Sina Razaghi ’28PhD, electrical and computer engineering

For the more than six million adults in the United States affected by heart failure each year, early detection can mean the difference between life and death. This wireless system monitors the wearer’s heart rate, rhythm, and respiration in just five to ten minutes a day—essentially giving patients an at-home electrocardiogram. In addition, the data it collects can be transmitted in real time to a smartphone app, allowing doctors to monitor their patients remotely and intervene if the vest’s readings indicate that a heart event could be imminent.

Chesma Eye Mask

Lead researcher: Trisha L. Andrew, associate professor

Laboratory: Wearable Electronics Laboratory

Modeled by: Zohreh Homayounfar ’23PhD, chemistry

Could your sleepwear hold the cure for insomnia? If you’re wearing the Chesma eye mask, it just might. Equipped with five fabric-based hydrogel electrodes and a single pressure sensor, this face mask tracks eye movement and pulse rate to determine a sleeper’s REM sleep patterns. Paired with customized pajamas that employ similar technology, researchers will be able to collect data on the wearer’s respiration, posture, and overall sleep quality, bringing the power of a sleep lab to your bedroom. You may also find the Chesma eye mask in the next generation of virtual-reality headsets, which would track eye movement and allow your favorite game to detect your sight line and respond in real time. (Get ready for more jump scares!)

Mobile Health Ring

Lead researcher: Sunghoon Ivan Lee, associate professor, Donna M. and Robert J. Manning Faculty Fellow

Laboratory: Advanced Human & Health Analytics Lab

Modeled by: Yunda Liu ’22MS, ’25PhD (left) and Fareya Ikram ’28PhD (right), Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences.

Following a stroke, regular exercise is critical to ensuring that survivors recover use of weakened limbs and maintain balance and mobility. But once patients leave a clinical setting, doctors must rely on inconsistent self-reporting from patients—until now. Through a sensor that looks like a ring and an accompanying wristband, patients can track the frequency and intensity of their arm movements. The motor performance information captured by the wearable sensors can then be processed and delivered to the patient’s medical team, keeping doctors informed.

Energy-Producing Biofilm

Lead researchers: Jun Yao, assistant professor; Derek Lovley, research professor

Department: Electrical and Computer Engineering

Modeled by: Xiaomeng Liu ’23PhD, electrical and computer engineering

Of course, wearable tech is only as good as the batteries that power it—but what if the energy required came from you? UMass researchers have developed a biofilm made from a paper-thin sheet of bacterial cells that, when applied to human skin, converts evaporating sweat into usable energy. The biofilm relies on structural and surface chemistry properties that exist even after the bacteria has died, so there’s no need to feed and maintain a living colony. The energy produced by the biofilm can power a range of wearables; recharging your watch could mean taking a few laps around the backyard.

In January, the team announced a breakthrough solution for bodily sensors that can handle increased pressure.