Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 19 News List

Tech Reviews

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

The LifeShirt, by VivoMetrics, is being used to track patient information and even by the US military and early response teams in emergency situations.

PHOTO COURTESY OF VIVOMETRICS

Technology is being sewn into the fabric of our lives -- literally. From products manufactured to serve industrial purposes, to ones made for public consumption, "wearware" as it's called, is re-engineering the way we interface with computers and redesigning our wardrobes.

Only a few years ago, wearable computers were the sole domain of the geeks at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's "Borg Lab." It was pretty easy to tell which kids on campus were a part of this department -- they were the ones wearing virtual-reality headgear in the cafeteria or had miniature keyboards strapped to their wrists. Their goal was, and is, to make personal computers truly personal and blur the lines between cognition and computation.

Their efforts have been noticed by several industries, who have themselves endeavored to make various kinds of "smartclothing." Their own purpose isn't to stitch a PC into a pair or pants for the wearer to use, but to stitch computer components into clothing that can monitor the wearer. The most notable of these is the LifeShirt, designed and manufactured by VivoMetrics, a company that started as late as 1999 and already has some very important contracts.

LifeShirt is a vest that continuously monitors the vital signs of its wearer. It collects 30 kinds of data, including heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation, EEG, skin temperature, core temperature and even the posture of the person wearing it. A hand-held computer and voice recorder attached to the vest also serves as an electronic diary for recording subjective data: "I'm in a bad mood" or "Damn, this thing itches."

All this information is logged into a file for a doctor to later examine. Where a single visit to a hospital can give doctors a picture of a patient's health, the LifeShirt can provide them with a movie. The data can also be transferred real-time via wireless network.

This latter method has been adopted by no less an institution than the US military. VivoMetrics announced in May that they will be providing LifeShirt components to the US Army's Research Institute of Environmental Medicine to be integrated into their Warfighter Physiological Status Monitor (WPSM) program. The WPSM will be worn by soldiers during training and combat operations and will enable army medics to remotely locate soldiers, assess their health status and even begin triage for necessary medical attention.

The army contract came on the heels of a similar program that took place on Super Bowl Sunday last year. While the Raiders and Buccaneers battled it out and Canadian Celine Dion sang God Bless America, another bowl, the Shadow Bowl was taking place in San Diego.

The Shadow Bowl was a civil readiness drill that incorporated the city's police and fire departments with a slate of high-tech companies in simulating a "Scenario of mass medical surge" (read: terrorist attack). VivoMetrics' LifeShirt was worn by the first personnel on the scene underneath their normal hazmat suits. It monitored their vital signs and sent information about possible chemical, radiological or biological agents at the scene back to base operators, essentially turning the emergency worker into a human canary in a coalmine.

"When you save the life of one emergency worker, you can literally save thousands of civilian lives," said VivoMetrics' founder, Andrew Behar.

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