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This Smart Textile Could Monitor Pilot Stress Levels in the Future

What if textile technology could prevent stress for working wearers, like pilots? A team of European researchers is making this possible with its latest fabric innovation.

Nottingham Trent University’s Advanced Textile Research Group is exploring how smart textiles embedded in pilot uniforms and cockpit seats can detect anxiety during flights.

Led by professor Tilak Dias of NTU’s School of Art & Design, the group is developing an advanced moisture sensing yarn that could potentially monitor stress indicators, including variable heart rate, body temperature and perspiration. With an electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor system, thermistors, and resistance temperature detector (RTD) chips, the yarn may also be able to tell if pilots are experiencing fatigue or becoming less alert.

“By using smart textiles we’re able to provide new prognostic and diagnostic techniques for pilot monitoring in a completely non-intrusive way,” Dias said. “This will enable the collection of data which will indicate the psychological experiences a pilot goes through while navigating a plane, potentially through unknown situations.”

Dubbed Active Simulator Cockpit Enhancement (ASCENT), the project is part of a broader research initiative led by SerTec Engineering in Spain with Greece-based Paragon SA and Nottingham Trent University as co-investigators. The $1.4 million project is funded by the European Commission and seeks to enhance cockpit simulators in the coming years.

“The data collected via the smart textiles technology will be invaluable for the training and development of pilots and help pave the way for new technologies to be integrated into the cockpit quicker,” Nottingham Trent University senior lecturer and researcher William Hurley said. “By monitoring a pilot’s mental state while testing any new technologies in a simulator, a better understanding can be developed of how these technologies can be integrated into a cockpit.”

The idea here is that smart textiles could start to serve functions beyond tracking the wearer’s fitness statistics and develop to a point where they start to ensure greater safety in instances like air travel.