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Clothing That Doesn't Miss a Beat

Many tech-lovers are using wearable gadgets to make them more health-conscious. But some Japanese companies are taking the idea a step further. They're developing high-tech fabrics that could save lives.

Workers put their health at risk working on a construction sites and toiling away under the hot sun. They could soon benefit from a shirt developed by a Japanese synthetic fiber firm.

People who developed the shirt say it captures heart rate data and beams it to a remote location using a system from a communications provider.

The construction site manager can monitor the information in real-time and intervene when he sees something abnormal.

"It's hard to tell if a worker is in good shape just from his or her outward appearance," said Hiroshi Kawahara, Deputy General Manager at Obayashi. "So it's really useful to have numerical data to make a judgment."

The developers put a special cloth on the inside of the shirt. It has a resin coating that captures weak electrical signals generated by heart movements. The developers used microscopic fibers which are about 100 times thinner than a human hair.

They explain that conventional fibers make limited contact with the skin but these tiny fibers are more adhesive and therefore better at picking up electrical pulses.

"The cloth not only captures heart rates but also muscle signals and brainwaves," said Keiji Takeda, a manager at Toray. "We're hoping to explore wider applications in medical, healthcare and digital health-related fields."

Another product under development by a textile firm and medical academics could be a big help in emergencies.

"This is our newly-developed cloth," said Tomohiro Kuroda, a professor at Kyoto University Hospital.

The material uses electrodes to perform electrocardiograms, tests that check heart activity. Professor Kuroda explains conventional tests only work if electrodes are hooked up in 10 places. Paramedics sometimes have difficulty quickly fitting the electrodes.

"It's hard to do that in an ambulance when a patient is unstable," Kuroda said.

The developers used a fabric that conducts electricity like a circuit. Medical workers simply have to wrap the cloth around the patient's torso and they get immediate results.

"Wearable technology like this could become a whole new market," said Kazuo Ueshima, who works at Teijin Frontier. "We plan to focus our efforts in this area."

Researchers working in this field are trying to come up with new innovations. The medical tools they create could turn out to be the difference for some between life and death.

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