WO2014204323A1 - Stretchable fabric sensors - Google Patents

Stretchable fabric sensors Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2014204323A1
WO2014204323A1 PCT/NZ2014/000119 NZ2014000119W WO2014204323A1 WO 2014204323 A1 WO2014204323 A1 WO 2014204323A1 NZ 2014000119 W NZ2014000119 W NZ 2014000119W WO 2014204323 A1 WO2014204323 A1 WO 2014204323A1
Authority
WO
WIPO (PCT)
Prior art keywords
sensor
electrodes
fabric
dielectric
electrode
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/NZ2014/000119
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Benjamin Marc O'brien
Todd Alan Gisby
Mahdieh NEJATI JAVAREMI
Original Assignee
Stretchsense Limited
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date
Priority to NZ61208513 priority Critical
Priority to NZ612085 priority
Application filed by Stretchsense Limited filed Critical Stretchsense Limited
Publication of WO2014204323A1 publication Critical patent/WO2014204323A1/en

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Classifications

    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A41WEARING APPAREL
    • A41DOUTERWEAR; PROTECTIVE GARMENTS; ACCESSORIES
    • A41D13/00Professional, industrial or sporting protective garments, e.g. surgeons' gowns or garments protecting against blows or punches
    • A41D13/12Surgeons' or patients' gowns or dresses
    • A41D13/1236Patients' garments
    • A41D13/1281Patients' garments with incorporated means for medical monitoring
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A41WEARING APPAREL
    • A41DOUTERWEAR; PROTECTIVE GARMENTS; ACCESSORIES
    • A41D1/00Garments
    • A41D1/002Garments adapted to accommodate electronic equipment
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A61MEDICAL OR VETERINARY SCIENCE; HYGIENE
    • A61BDIAGNOSIS; SURGERY; IDENTIFICATION
    • A61B5/00Detecting, measuring or recording for diagnostic purposes; Identification of persons
    • A61B5/103Detecting, measuring or recording devices for testing the shape, pattern, colour, size or movement of the body or parts thereof, for diagnostic purposes
    • A61B5/11Measuring movement of the entire body or parts thereof, e.g. head or hand tremor, mobility of a limb
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A61MEDICAL OR VETERINARY SCIENCE; HYGIENE
    • A61BDIAGNOSIS; SURGERY; IDENTIFICATION
    • A61B5/00Detecting, measuring or recording for diagnostic purposes; Identification of persons
    • A61B5/68Arrangements of detecting, measuring or recording means, e.g. sensors, in relation to patient
    • A61B5/6801Arrangements of detecting, measuring or recording means, e.g. sensors, in relation to patient specially adapted to be attached to or worn on the body surface
    • A61B5/6802Sensor mounted on worn items
    • A61B5/6804Garments; Clothes
    • DTEXTILES; PAPER
    • D03WEAVING
    • D03DWOVEN FABRICS; METHODS OF WEAVING; LOOMS
    • D03D1/00Woven fabrics designed to make specified articles
    • D03D1/0088Fabrics having an electronic function
    • DTEXTILES; PAPER
    • D03WEAVING
    • D03DWOVEN FABRICS; METHODS OF WEAVING; LOOMS
    • D03D15/00Woven fabrics characterised by the material or construction of the yarn or other warp or weft elements used
    • D03D15/08Woven fabrics characterised by the material or construction of the yarn or other warp or weft elements used using stretchable or elastic threads
    • GPHYSICS
    • G01MEASURING; TESTING
    • G01DMEASURING NOT SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR A SPECIFIC VARIABLE; ARRANGEMENTS FOR MEASURING TWO OR MORE VARIABLES NOT COVERED IN A SINGLE OTHER SUBCLASS; TARIFF METERING APPARATUS; MEASURING OR TESTING NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G01D5/00Mechanical means for transferring the output of a sensing member; Means for converting the output of a sensing member to another variable where the form or nature of the sensing member does not constrain the means for converting; Transducers not specially adapted for a specific variable
    • G01D5/12Mechanical means for transferring the output of a sensing member; Means for converting the output of a sensing member to another variable where the form or nature of the sensing member does not constrain the means for converting; Transducers not specially adapted for a specific variable using electric or magnetic means
    • G01D5/14Mechanical means for transferring the output of a sensing member; Means for converting the output of a sensing member to another variable where the form or nature of the sensing member does not constrain the means for converting; Transducers not specially adapted for a specific variable using electric or magnetic means influencing the magnitude of a current or voltage
    • G01D5/24Mechanical means for transferring the output of a sensing member; Means for converting the output of a sensing member to another variable where the form or nature of the sensing member does not constrain the means for converting; Transducers not specially adapted for a specific variable using electric or magnetic means influencing the magnitude of a current or voltage by varying capacitance
    • G01D5/241Mechanical means for transferring the output of a sensing member; Means for converting the output of a sensing member to another variable where the form or nature of the sensing member does not constrain the means for converting; Transducers not specially adapted for a specific variable using electric or magnetic means influencing the magnitude of a current or voltage by varying capacitance by relative movement of capacitor electrodes
    • GPHYSICS
    • G01MEASURING; TESTING
    • G01LMEASURING FORCE, STRESS, TORQUE, WORK, MECHANICAL POWER, MECHANICAL EFFICIENCY, OR FLUID PRESSURE
    • G01L1/00Measuring force or stress in general
    • G01L1/14Measuring force or stress in general by measuring variations in capacitance or inductance of electrical elements, e.g. by measuring variations of frequency of electrical oscillators
    • G01L1/142Measuring force or stress in general by measuring variations in capacitance or inductance of electrical elements, e.g. by measuring variations of frequency of electrical oscillators using capacitors
    • GPHYSICS
    • G01MEASURING; TESTING
    • G01LMEASURING FORCE, STRESS, TORQUE, WORK, MECHANICAL POWER, MECHANICAL EFFICIENCY, OR FLUID PRESSURE
    • G01L1/00Measuring force or stress in general
    • G01L1/14Measuring force or stress in general by measuring variations in capacitance or inductance of electrical elements, e.g. by measuring variations of frequency of electrical oscillators
    • G01L1/142Measuring force or stress in general by measuring variations in capacitance or inductance of electrical elements, e.g. by measuring variations of frequency of electrical oscillators using capacitors
    • G01L1/146Measuring force or stress in general by measuring variations in capacitance or inductance of electrical elements, e.g. by measuring variations of frequency of electrical oscillators using capacitors for measuring force distributions, e.g. using force arrays
    • GPHYSICS
    • G01MEASURING; TESTING
    • G01LMEASURING FORCE, STRESS, TORQUE, WORK, MECHANICAL POWER, MECHANICAL EFFICIENCY, OR FLUID PRESSURE
    • G01L1/00Measuring force or stress in general
    • G01L1/20Measuring force or stress in general by measuring variations in ohmic resistance of solid materials or of electrically-conductive fluids; by making use of electrokinetic cells, i.e. liquid-containing cells wherein an electrical potential is produced or varied upon the application of stress
    • GPHYSICS
    • G01MEASURING; TESTING
    • G01LMEASURING FORCE, STRESS, TORQUE, WORK, MECHANICAL POWER, MECHANICAL EFFICIENCY, OR FLUID PRESSURE
    • G01L1/00Measuring force or stress in general
    • G01L1/20Measuring force or stress in general by measuring variations in ohmic resistance of solid materials or of electrically-conductive fluids; by making use of electrokinetic cells, i.e. liquid-containing cells wherein an electrical potential is produced or varied upon the application of stress
    • G01L1/205Measuring force or stress in general by measuring variations in ohmic resistance of solid materials or of electrically-conductive fluids; by making use of electrokinetic cells, i.e. liquid-containing cells wherein an electrical potential is produced or varied upon the application of stress using distributed sensing elements
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A61MEDICAL OR VETERINARY SCIENCE; HYGIENE
    • A61BDIAGNOSIS; SURGERY; IDENTIFICATION
    • A61B2562/00Details of sensors; Constructional details of sensor housings or probes; Accessories for sensors
    • A61B2562/02Details of sensors specially adapted for in-vivo measurements
    • A61B2562/0261Strain gauges

Abstract

Aspects of the present invention provide a sensor configuration in which a stretchable capacitor is formed using stretchable fabrics such that the fabrication of the sensor can readily be integrated into the fabrication of a wearable item. The sensor may be capacitive and consist of two or more fabric electrodes electrically isolated from each other by an electrically insulating fabric dielectric. In one particular aspect the present invention provides a sensor having a first electrode, a second electrode and a dielectric arranged to isolate the electrodes so as to provide a sensing capacitance across the electrodes, wherein one or more of the first electrode, second electrode and dielectric comprises a fabric which is capable of deforming to change the sensing capacitance.

Description

A Stretchable Fabric Sensor

Field of the Invention

This invention relates to improvements in respect of stretchable sensors, such as those suitable for integration with a stretchable fabric item such as a might be used in a wearable item.

Background of the Invention

Digitising large amplitude motion, such as that of the human body, has wide ranging applications in sports, health and fitness, physiotherapy, medical, human machine interface, and entertainment industries to name just a few.

Conventional sensors such as strain gauges for example have been adapted to measure human movement, however traditionally these, and similar, sensors have been developed for use with rigid structures and there is a fundamental mismatch between the relatively high stiffness, low strain capabilities of a strain gauge and the low stiffness, high strain properties of the human body. This necessitates the added cost and complexity and constraints of a mechanism to convert the motion to a range suitable for the strain gauge.

Video analysis is a popular alternative, but typically requires an expensive camera setup and/or significant computing requirements that make real time feedback expensive and limit its application to a laboratory based setup, and is susceptible to objects of interest being hidden from the view of a fixed camera placement. Inertial sensors avoid the impedance mismatch of coupling rigid deformation based sensors to soft and flexible structures like the human body and give excellent feedback regarding dynamic motion, but cannot give a good approximation of slow motions or static positions.

Resistive sensors based on electrically conductive soft polymers are an excellent match to the mechanical properties of both the human body and stretchable fabrics. However, these sensors can be highly sensitive to environmental parameters such as temperature and humidity, and having their output drift as a result of time, strain rate, and number of operation cycles. Capacitive Dielectric Elastomer (DE) sensors, another type of soft polymer sensor, share their resistive counter-parts attractive mechanical properties but have significantly higher repeatability and are significantly less sensitive to environmental factors. However, both resistive sensors based on conductive polymers and DEs are typically made from elastomeric materials such as silicones or acrylic polymers, for example, which require fundamentally different manufacturing and handling processes compared to those traditionally used in the textile industry. For example, DE or resistive polymer sensors are poorly suited to sewing because the act of penetrating the polymer creates a weak point that significantly increases the sensor's susceptibility to mechanical failure through mechanisms such as tearing, for example. Alternative approaches to bonding a polymer based sensor to the wearable item are available, such as gluing, for example, but the

fundamental differences between stretchable fabrics and elastic polymers limits the degree to which the sensor fabrication, garment fabrication, and garment instrumentation can be integrated.

Electrically conductive fabrics are more readily compatible with common textile processing techniques, and have been used as stretch sensors where their nominal resistance changes when the material is stretched. However, like resistive conductive soft polymers, these sensors typically exhibit hysteresis, and poor accuracy and repeatability.

It would also be an advantage to have a sensor which could address any or all of the above problems, or at least provide the public with an alternative choice. Disclosure of the Invention

Aspects of the present invention provide a sensor configuration in which a stretchable capacitor is formed using stretchable fabrics such that the fabrication of the sensor can readily be integrated into the fabrication of a wearable item.

The sensor may be capacitive and consist of two or more fabric electrodes electrically isolated from each other by an electrically insulating fabric dielectric.

Preferably the sensor is arranged such that stretching the sensor results in a detectable change in the measureable electrical properties of the sensor. Preferably stretching the sensor modifies the overlapping area of the two or more electrodes and/or the separation distance between the two or more electrodes, thereby resulting in a detectable change in the capacitance of the sensor.

Preferably stretching the sensor modifies the geometry and/or resistivity of the electrically conductive component of the electrodes, thereby resulting in a detectable change in the resistance of the sensor.

Preferably the capacitance of the sensor can be related to the state of stretch and/or mechanical state of the sensor.

Alternatively a combination of the capacitance of the sensor and the resistance of the sensor can be related to the state of the sensor.

In one aspect the present invention provides a method of sensing

deformation in a wearable item, the method including the steps of:

sensing a change in capacitance across and/or a resistance along a sensor integrated with the wearable item, wherein the sensor comprises a first and second electrode and a dielectric, wherein all of the first and second electrode and dielectric are flexible and compliant, wherein one or more of the electrodes or a dielectric are formed from a stretchable fabric and wherein stretching of the fabric causes a region formed by overlapping electrodes to change in area and/or to decrease in thickness thereby causing a change in capacitance and/or resistance when the wearable item is deformed.

In one aspect the present invention provides a method of manufacture of a sensor operable to sense large stretch deformation, the method comprising providing a first electrode and a second electrode and a dielectric separating the electrodes to provide a capacitance across the electrodes, wherein one or more of the electrodes are formed of a stretchable material, and providing connections for the electrodes to a sensor circuit.

In one aspect the present invention provides a sensor having a first electrode, a second electrode and a dielectric arranged to isolate the electrodes so as to provide a sensing capacitance across the electrodes, wherein one or more of the first electrode, second electrode and dielectric comprises a fabric and/or textile which is capable of deforming to change the sensing capacitance.

All of the first electrode, second electrode, and dielectric may be both flexible and compliant.

The fabric and/or textile may be deformable to change the capacitance by allowing the overlapping area of one or more electrodes to change and/or by allowing the separation of the electrodes to change, and/or by allowing the relative position of the electrodes to change, such that the ability of the sensor to store electrical charge is modified.

One or more of the electrodes may be formed of fabric or textile. The one or more electrodes may comprise woven and/or knitted conductive materials. The one or more electrodes may be separated by a fabric suitable to provide a dielectric for the two electrodes.

The one or more electrodes may comprise fabric and conductive elements which collectively form an electrode. The sensor may comprise conductive glue or other adhesive material to provide enhanced conductivity for one or more of the electrodes.

Preferably the deformable fabric included in the electrodes incorporates an electrically conductive component.

The fabric and/or textile may be deformable in one or more axes.

The deformation may be stretching. The electrodes may be formed from a conductive stretchable fabric or textile.

Preferably, the electrically conductive component of the stretchable fabric may is an electrically conductive fibre.

The electrically conductive fibres may be inextensible and the structure of the fabric may be such that stretching of the electrode fabric does not result in significant stretching of the electrically conductive fibres.

Alternatively the electrically conductive fibres may be extensible and stretching the electrode fabric results in significant stretching of the electrically conductive fibres.

Alternatively the electrically conductive component of the stretchable fabric used for the electrodes may be a network of discrete yet interconnecting electrically conductive particles interspersed amongst fibres of the fabric.

The electrically conductive component of the stretchable fabric used for the electrodes may be a network of interconnecting electrically conductive particles coating one or more of the fabric's constituent fibers.

Alternatively the electrically conductive component of the stretchable fabric used for the electrodes may be a network of discrete yet interconnecting electrically conductive fibres and/or elements and/or layer integrated with the fabric.

The electrodes may be bonded to the dielectric by way of a sewn stitch. The electrodes may be bonded to the dielectric by way of a flexible and compliant double sided tape.

The electrodes are bonded to the dielectric by way of a flexible and compliant adhesive.

The structure and/or composition of the fabrics used for the electrodes and the dielectric may be suitable for the fabrics to have the ability to stretch in one or more directions.

The stretch of the fabrics may be reversible. The fabric or textile may be elastic and/or resilient so as to return to the original state after deformation to allow sensing for multiple instances of deformation.

The fabric or textile may have mechanical properties selected to provide a selected change in capacitance for a given stretch and/or deformation. This may allow degrees of stretch or strain to be sensed and/or measured.

The sensor may be integrated with a fabric item. The fabric item may be a wearable item.

The sensor may be formed by attaching electrodes to a fabric item. The sensor and/or electrodes may be sewn to a fabric item.

The sensor may comprise a shielding electrode which is separated from one or more of the electrodes to be shielded which provide a capacitance, whereby the shielding electrode can be grounded to provide shielding for the shielded electrode.

The shielding electrode may comprise fabric.

The sensor may comprise two or more shielding electrodes.

The sensor may comprise an encapsulating layer of material.

The dielectric may comprise material which includes micro-particles or nano- particles of high dielectric constant or conductive material to increase the dielectric constant of the dielectric.

The sensor may comprise a fabric electrode and a polymer dielectric.

Alternatively the sensor may comprise a polymer electrode and a fabric dielectric.

One or more, but preferably not all, of the electrode and dielectric layers may be arranged to extend beyond one or more of the other layers so as to provide a tab to allow the sensor to be secured to an item.

The sensor may be integrated with a wearable item by a tab being sewn or bonded to the item.

The dielectric may comprise a layer of adhesive.

An electrode may comprise a layer of adhesive. The sensor may comprise a layer of adhesive between an electrode and a dielectric. The adhesive may comprise dielectric material. Alternatively the adhesive may comprise electrically conductive material. The sensor may comprise of a discontinuous layer of adhesive between the electrode and the dielectric, wherein the adhesive primarily serves to bond the electrode and dielectric together but has minimal impact on the capacitance and/or resistance of the sensor, which may be used to modify the amount of adhesive required, modify the overall thickness of the sensor, modify the overall stiffness of the sensor, or selectively modify the local stiffness of the sensor, to give some examples.

The sensor may comprise two or more electrodes which do not entirely overlap so as to provide tabs to allow the electrodes to be connected separately. This connection may be with a contact which extends through the electrode. The connection may be a rivet or other mechanical fastener.

The sensor may comprise a set of two or more strip electrodes separated from another set of one or more strip electrodes by a dielectric wherein the two sets are arranged transverse to each other. The two sets of electrodes may be arranged at an angle relative to each other. The two sets form a grid to allow sensing of changes in capacitance caused by localised

stretching whereby positional stretch sensing information can be measured. The electrodes may be bonded to the dielectric by way of a flexible and compliant electrically conductive adhesive.

The electrodes may be bonded to the dielectric by way of a combination of two or more of a sewn stitch, a flexible and compliant adhesive, and a flexible and compliant electrically conductive adhesive.

Another aspect of the invention provides an item formed of deformable material with a sensor a sensor having a first electrode, a second electrode and a dielectric arranged to isolate the electrodes so as to provide a sensing capacitance across the electrodes and resistance along the electrodes, wherein one or more of the first electrode, second electrode and dielectric comprises a fabric and/or textile which is capable of deforming to change the sensing capacitance and/or resistance. In one aspect the present invention provides a sensor having a first electrode, a second electrode and a dielectric arranged to separate and/or isolate the electrodes from each other so as to provide a sensing capacitance across them, wherein one or more of the first electrode, second electrode and dielectric is formed from a fabric and/or textile.

In one aspect the present invention provides a sensor having a first electrode, a second electrode and a spacer arranged to separate the electrodes so as to provide a sensing capacitance, wherein one or more of the first electrode, second electrode and dielectric is formed from a fabric and/or textile which is capable of being stretched so as to provide variation to the sensing capacitance and/or resistance to allow sensing and/or measurement of the degree of stretching.

In another aspect the invention provides a method of sensing deformation in a wearable item, the method including the steps of:

sensing a change in capacitance across and/or resistance along a sensor integrated with the wearable item, wherein the sensor comprises a first and second electrode and a dielectric, wherein one or more of the electrodes or a dielectric are formed from a stretchable fabric wherein stretching of the fabric causes a region formed by overlapping electrodes to change in area and/or to decrease in thickness thereby causing a change in capacitance and/or resistance when the wearable item is deformed.

In another aspect the present invention provides a method of manufacture of a sensor operable to sense large stretch deformation, the method comprising providing a first electrode and a second electrode and a dielectric separating the electrodes to provide a capacitance across the electrodes, wherein one or more of the electrodes are formed of a stretchable material, and providing connections for the electrodes to sensor circuit.

As used herein the term 'wearable' refers broadly to any item which might be worn by a subject, such as a person, animal, machine, plant or structure.

As used herein the term 'a dielectric' refers broadly to any element, set of elements or arrangement of material which isolates electrodes to form a capacitance or separates the electrodes to provide isolation though the dielectric properties of a fluid such as air.

As used herein separation of the electrodes refers more broadly to the distance over permitivity for substantially planar electrodes and includes the well understood corresponding generalised parameter or integral for arrangements of electrodes more complex than planar electrodes.

As used herein connection and interconnection, conductive and conduction refer broadly to conduction of charge suitable for sensing changes in capacitance.

Further aspects of the present invention comprise alternative combinations of the features recited in the paragraphs above.

Brief description of the drawings

Additional and further aspects of the present invention will be apparent to the reader from the following description of embodiments, given in by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings in which :

Figure 1 shows an exploded view of the basic structure of a fabric capacitive sensor according to an embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 2 shows how the fabric capacitor structure can be used in a stretch sensing configuration according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 3 shows an example of a combination of elastic fibres and

inextensible fibres used in an electrode according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 4 shows schematically how elastic fibres stretch and provide an elastic recoil force for a sensor according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 5 shows schematically an example of how a sensor structure can be sewn together using thread according to another embodiment of the present invention. Figure 6 shows an example of how a folded structure can be used to form a sensor with the electrode layers being attached to a larger dielectric fabric, which is then folded and sewn to form the sensor structure according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 7 shows a further example of how careful design can help prevent damage of the dielectric layer and shorting of the sensor according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 8 shows an example of the use of a zigzag stitch to assemble the sensor according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 9 shows an example of how the fabric sensor can be embedded into a non-fabric encapsulant such as a silicone or acrylic polymer, for example, to stop fluid or dust from entering the sensor according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 10 shows an example of metallic or other small spheres incorporated into the thread of the dielectric fabric according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 11 shows an example of a sensor that is a hybrid of a conventional Dielectric Elastomer (DE) sensor and a fabric capacitive stretch sensor according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 12 shows an illustration of an alternative hybrid of a Dielectric

Elastomer and a fabric based sensor where the electrodes are made from a flexible and compliant electrically conductive material according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 13 shows an example of how the fabric capacitor sensor structure can be glued together with tape or with a glue compound according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 14 shows an example of how a partial glue layer can be used to hold the structure of the sensor together according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 15 shows a conductive stretchable glue layer used to hold the fabric electrodes onto the dielectric according to another embodiment of the present invention. Figure 16 shows a fabric sensor being used to instrument a compression sock or sleeve according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 17 shows fabric stretch sensors incorporated into a glove to provide feedback information on the hand according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 18 shows fabric sensors integrated arbitrarily with a shirt and pants according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 19 shows electrodes offset to facilitate ease of connection at either end according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 20 shows conductive thread used to connect the sensor's electrodes to an external circuit according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 21 shows electrical connection to the sensor's electrodes using rivets according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 22 shows conducting fabric can be formed into a grid providing a map of stretch sensors for measuring complex deformations according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 23 shows a schematic overview of the systems involved in using a fabric sensor to measure a structure such as the human body according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 24 shows a further example of an application of a fabric stretch sensor that is attached or woven into the surface of a pneumatic actuator according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 25 shows a further example of an application of a fabric stretch sensor that is integrated into the upholstery of a seat for a vehicle according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 26 shows schematically a fabric sensor consisting of multiple layers forming multiple capacitors according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 27 shows schematically a sensor shielded from the influence of sources of electrical noise and external electrical fields by surrounding the positive electrode of the sensor with grounded referenced electrodes according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Figure 28 shows schematically a single layer fabric sensor folded to create a multilayer structure according to another embodiment of the present invention.

Further aspects of the invention will become apparent from the following description of the invention which is given by way of example only of particular embodiments.

Best modes for carrying out the invention

Figure 1 shows an exploded view of the basic structure of a fabric capacitive sensor 1. The structure consists of three layers 2, 3 and 4 of stretchable fabric. In this embodiment the inner dielectric layer 2 is a non-conducting, dielectric fabric and the outer two layers 3 and 4 are conducting fabric.

The structure of each fabric incorporates extensible or non-extensible fibres, or a combination of both, that are woven or knitted in such a manner that the fabric can stretch in one or more directions.

When pressed together the three layers 2, 3 and 4 form a capacitor with the conducting fabric acting as electrodes and with the non-conducting fabric acting as a dielectric.

The capacitance is dependent on the thickness of non-conducting fabric 2 separating the electrode fabrics 3 and 4 and on the overlapping area of the conducting fabric electrodes. When deformed the capacitance and/or the resistance of the electrodes 3 and 4 will thus change along with geometry of the sensor 1.

Figure 2 shows how the fabric capacitor structure 1 can be used in a stretch- sensing configuration. The sensor is shown in cross-section from the side with one edge attached to a fixture. In the left drawing of Figure 2 the sensor la is in the un-stretched state, and in the right drawing the sensor 1 b is in the stretched state. As the sensor 1 stretches and contracts, the area of the sensor and/or the separation of the electrodes 3 and 4 changes which results in a change in the sensor's capacitance. As the electrodes 3 and 4 stretch and contract their resistance may also change. Figure 2 also shows a tab 5a and d 5b of dielectric fabric 2 extending beyond the conducting fabric 3 and 4. This tab 5 might be useful for attaching the sensor to an item.

Figure 3 shows an embodiment which provides an example of how a combination of elastic fibres 6 and inextensible fibres 7 can be woven or knitted together into a fabric 8 to create a fabric that can stretch and return to it's original state. This allows the multiple instances of stretchable sensing. The elastic fibres 6 can be formed as an integral part of the fabric 8, or they can be stitched over the fabric in a desired pattern.

Figure 4 shows schematically how when the fabric 8 of Figure 3 is stretched, the elastic fibres 6a and 6b stretch and provide an elastic recoil force, while the inextensible fibres 7a and 7b do not stretch but bend to enable the stretch of the fabric.

Figure 5 shows schematically an embodiment which provides an example of a sensor structure 10 sewn together using thread. Two electrodes 11 and 12 are separated by a dielectric 13 and the assembly is sewn together. In this embodiment the electrode 11 has a different width than the electrode 12 and the two electrodes are sewn separately with threads 14a and 14b to the dielectric. Figure 5 also shows how electrodes of different geometries can be used to facilitate the assembly of the sensor.

Figure 6 shows an embodiment which provides an example of how a folded structure can be used to form a sensor with the electrode layers being attached to a larger dielectric fabric, which is then folded and sewn to form the sensor structure. In this embodiment two electrodes 15 and 16 are attached spaced apart to a common dielectric 17. The dielectric 17 extends beyond the two spaced electrodes 15 and 16 so that it can be folded to bring the two electrodes 15 and 16 to overlap while providing tabs 18 and 19 which extend beyond the overlapping electrodes 14 and 15. The two tabs 18 and 19 can be sewn together to secure the electrodes 14 and 15 and dielectric 18 in a capacitor structure. There are two layers of dielectric 18 shown between the electrodes 14 and 15 in this particular structure due to the fold.

Figure 7 shows an embodiment which provides an illustration of how careful design can help prevent damage of a dielectric layer 20 and shorting of the sensor. In the embodiment illustrated in figure 7 fabric electrodes 21 and 22 are sewn onto either side of the fabric dielectric 20 which is then folded together such that the dielectric layer in a region 24 separating the two electrodes 21 and 22 has no thread piercing it.

Figure 8 illustrates an embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of the use of a zigzag stitch 25 to assemble a sensor 26. The zigzag stitch secures an electrode to a dielectric 28 which extends beyond the electrode 27. The zigzag stitch 25 allows the sensor 25 to stretch in the desired direction, whilst also providing a natural extension limit to protect the sensor from over-stretching.

Figure 9 illustrates an embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of how a fabric sensor 29 can be embedded into a non-fabric encapsulant 30 such as a silicone or acrylic polymer, or other suitable encapsulant materials know to the reader. The encapsulant 30 stops fluid or dust from entering the sensor. The encapsulant 30 can also act as a means for holding the fabric sensor together by mechanically pressing on the electrode layers.

Figure 10 illustrates an embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of how metallic or other small spheres 31 could be incorporated into the thread 32 of the dielectric fabric 33 to increase the dielectric constant or otherwise tune its dielectric properties. Any type or size of particle known to the reader to increase or tune the dielectric properties of the dielectric may be used in this embodiment.

Figure 11 illustrates an embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of a sensor that is a hybrid of a conventional Dielectric

Elastomer (DE) sensor and a fabric capacitive stretch sensor. Conductive fabric is used for electrodes 34 and 35, whilst a compliant and flexible polymer is used as a dielectric 36. The electrodes could be glued, sewn, or embedded into the surface of the dielectric.

Figure 12 illustrates an embodiment of the present invention which is an alternative hybrid of a Dielectric Elastomer and a fabric based sensor to that illustrated in Figure 11. In this embodiment electrodes 37 and 38 are formed from a flexible and compliant electrically conductive material, such as a carbon loaded silicone or other suitable material known to the reader. A dielectric 39 is formed from a stretchable fabric. The electrodes could be glued, sewn, or embedded into the surface(s) of the dielectric.

Figure 13 illustrates an embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of how elements or layers 101, 102 and 103 of the fabric capacitor sensor structure can be glued together with tape (not shown) or with a glue compound 104a and 104b. This construction provides a stitch- free sensor assembly.

Figure 14 shows an embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of how a partial glue layer 105a and 105b can be used to hold the structure of the sensor 106 together. This embodiment demonstrates glue not acting as a dielectric. Rather it is the fabric layer and air gaps 107a and 107b that provide separation or isolation of the electrodes 108 and 109. In some embodiments a partial glue layer (not shown) could also be used to add compliance to the structure, or to create patterns of high and low deformation.

In the embodiment shown in figure 14 a discontinuous layer of adhesive is laid between the electrode and the dielectric. The adhesive primarily serves to bond the electrode and dielectric together but has minimal impact on the capacitance and/or resistance of the sensor. This approach may be used to modify the amount of adhesive required, modify the overall thickness of the sensor, modify the overall stiffness of the sensor, or selectively modify the local stiffness of the sensor, to allow the hybrid sensor breathable, or to achieve other affects that will be apparent to the reader. Figure 15 illustrates a further embodiment of the present invention which shows how a conductive stretchable glue layer 40a and 40b can be used to hold fabric electrodes 41 and 42 onto the dielectric 43. Such a glue layer 40 could enhance the conductivity of the electrodes leading to a better sensor.

Figure 16 illustrates an embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of a fabric sensor 44 used to instrument a compression sock 45 or sleeve (not shown) to allow easy and simple measurement of extension of a knee or elbow joint, for example. The sensor shown has electrodes 46 and 47 separated by dielectric 48. The sensor 44 of some embodiments may be glued, stitched or bonded using other compliant methods known to the reader to other examples of wearable items and may be considered to be integrated with these items. This simple configuration could also be used to measure other joints such as a finger, ankle, hip, or shoulder, or it could be used to instrument the joints or limbs of animals, livestock, or soft robots for example. Other embodiments may be used to instrument movement of joints or limbs of structures or plants.

Figure 17 illustrates another embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of fabric stretch sensors 49a to 49e incorporated into, or integrated with, a glove 50 to provide feedback information movement on the hand. The sensors are shown as one per finger 51a to 51e, but they could be segmented to measure individual joints in each finger. As each finger bends the fabric sensor stretches, giving rise to a detectable chance in the electrical properties of the sensor.

Figure 18 illustrates another embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of fabric sensors 52a to 521 integrated arbitrarily with a shirt 53 and trousers 54. In some embodiments fabric sensors can readily be integrated during the production of garments such that a distributed array of sensors can be placed at points of interest around a garment to create smart clothes. A key advantage of the stretchable fabric sensor is it's accessibility to the textile and fashion industries.

Figure 19 illustrates another embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of how a sensor's electrodes 55 and 56 can be offset to facilitate ease of connection to a circuit at either end. Also shown is a dielectric 57 which, in this embodiment, is wider than the electrodes 55 and 56. This arrangement facilitates sewing conductive thread (not shown) to either end forming a useful sensor without risk of forming a short circuit between the sensor's electrodes.

Figure 20 illustrates another embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of how conductive thread 64a to 64f can be used to connect the sensor's 70a to 70c electrodes to an external circuit (not shown), and how multiple sensors can be created using a common dielectric, which could be the garment itself, for example. This illustrates another means for integrating the sensors 70a to 70c. The conductive thread can be stitched into the dielectric/garment, and the type or pattern of the stitch can be used to control the extensibility of different parts of the structure in accordance with a given application. Figure 21 illustrates another embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of an alternative method of making an electrical connection to electrodes 71 and 72 by using rivets 73 and 74. The rivets 73 and 74 clamp to the conductive electrode fabric 71 and 72 and can be soldered to or can clamp electrically conductive wires (not shown) against the conductive electrode.

Figure 22 illustrates another embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of how strips of conducting fabric 75 and 76 can be formed into a grid providing a map of stretch sensors for measuring complex deformations. A capacitor is formed in each of the regions 77 where a set of electrodes 75, shown vertically, on one side of the dielectric 78, overlaps transversely with a set of electrodes 76, shown horizontally, on the opposite side of the dielectric 78. The capacitance of different locations 77 on the grid can be polled to measure their state of stretch.

Figure 23 shows a schematic overview of the systems according to a preferred embodiment of the invention involved in using a fabric sensor to measure a human body, for example. The body 79 deforms the sensor 80, the interrogation electronics 81 measure the change in capacitance and/or resistance, and the software interface 82 provides an interface (not shown) for displaying feedback to the user or logging data, for example.

Figure 24 illustrates another embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of an application of a fabric stretch sensor 83 that is attached to or woven into a surface of a pneumatic actuator 84. Such a system could provide closed loop control for industrial, medical, military, or other robots. As the actuator 88 expands and contracts the sensor 87 provides a signal that can be related to the deformation of the actuator.

Figure 25 illustrates another embodiment of the present invention which provides a further example of an application of fabric stretch sensors 85a to 85d that are integrated into the upholstery of a seat 86 for a vehicle (not shown), for example, that could be used for measuring passenger shape, presence, centre of gravity, or comfort for example.

Figure 26 illustrates another embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of how a fabric sensor 87 could consist of multiple layers of interleaved electrodes 88a to 88f and dielectrics 89a to 89e thus forming multiple capacitors 90a to 90d. Additional layers can be added to the sensor by sewing, taping, or gluing, or a combination of these methods, for example. Adding extra layers increases the capacitance of the sensor and the sensor's sensitivity to a given stretch without increasing the footprint area of the sensor.

Figure 27 illustrates another embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of how the sensor 91 can be shielded from the influence of sources of electrical noise and external electrical fields by surrounding the positive electrodes 92 and 93 with grounded referenced electrodes 94 and 95. This structure of this embodiment forms a double layer capacitor.

Figure 28 illustrates another embodiment of the present invention which provides an example of how a single layer fabric sensor 96 can be folded to create a multilayer structure 97. A key advantage of this structure is that it achieves the benefits of a multilayer capacitor structure without requiring additional electrical connections to the electrodes on each layer. This structure is convenient for using the sensor to measure pressure, for example, by converting stretch resulting from the compression of the stack into a detectable change in the capacitance and/or resistance of the sensor. Further and additional embodiments will now be described.

One embodiment of the present invention is a method of manufacture of a sensor for sensing large stretch deformations. A first electrode and a second electrode are attached to a dielectric which separates the electrodes to provide a capacitance across the electrodes. In this embodiment an electrode is formed of a stretchable, and providing connections for the electrodes to sensor circuit. In other embodiments all electrodes are conducting fabric. In other embodiments the dielectric is fabric. Some embodiments of the present invention comprise knitted materials or fabrics in place of woven fabrics.

In some embodiments of the present invention one of the electrodes is arranged about another central electrode. In some specific embodiments the central electrode is arranged coaxial to an outer electrode. In some embodiments the sensor includes an outer coaxial shielding electrode. In some embodiments sensor is integrated with a fabric item. In various embodiments the sensor may be attached to the item or electrodes are sewn or attached to the fabric to use the fabric as a dielectric.

In the preceding description and the following claims the word "a" is not intended to be limited to "one".

Some embodiments have fabrics which conduct along conductive fibres. Some embodiments have fabrics which conduct between conductive fibres.

Embodiments of the present of the invention provide stretch sensors that are more breathable than sensors consisting only of polymers. Some hybrid embodiments having both fabric and polymer layers have apertures formed in the polymer to allow the material to be breathable. These holes may be formed with a punch or needle or by other know methods such as a screen.

Embodiments of the present invention also a woven, knitted or textile deformable sensor that is resistant to tearing when stretched or which are relatively tough and durable. Some embodiments take advantage of this resistance and/or durability to give advantages in repeated stretching or large magnitude stretching.

Embodiments of the present invention are manufactured by attaching various combinations of dielectric fabric and/or polymer. Embodiments are manufactured by different combinations of stitching, adhesives, tapes and adhesive or partial adhesive regions.

Embodiments of the present invention provide a sensor which is easily integrated with fabric items.

Embodiments of the present invention sense stretch to provide a

measurement of the state and/or degree of stretch.

Some embodiments of the present invention combine the textile-processing compatibility of electrically conductive fabrics with the improved

performance of capacitive sensors to provide a stretchable capacitive sensor configuration where the primary components of the sensor, i.e., the electrodes and the dielectric, are made from stretchable fabric, and the sensor can be formed using the same conventional textile processing techniques used in the fabrication of wearable items, so that there exists the potential that in the process of producing a wearable item the sensor is also formed. Flexible and compliant circuits as provided by embodiments of the present invention are a significant leap forward for this field that have the potential to overcome some of the issues of these alternative technologies. These circuits can be applied directly to the human body, or, where it is desirable to make it easy to put on and take off the circuit, integrated into wearable items made from stretchable fabrics where stretching of the fabric is transmitted to the flexible and compliant circuit.

In the preceding description and the following claims the word "comprise" or equivalent variations thereof is used in an inclusive sense to specify the presence of the stated feature or features. This term does not preclude the presence or addition of further features in various embodiments.

It is to be understood that the present invention is not limited to the embodiments described herein and further and additional embodiments within the spirit and scope of the invention will be apparent to the skilled reader from the examples illustrated with reference to the drawings. In particular, the invention may reside in any combination of features described herein, or may reside in alternative embodiments or combinations of these features with known equivalents to given features. Modifications and variations of the example embodiments of the invention discussed above will be apparent to those skilled in the art and may be made without departure of the scope of the invention as defined in the appended claims.

Claims

What we claim is:
1) A method of sensing deformation in a wearable item, comprising sensing a change in capacitance across and/or a resistance along a sensor integrated with the wearable item, wherein the sensor comprises a first and second electrode and a dielectric, wherein all of the first and second electrode and dielectric are flexible and compliant and one or more of the electrodes or a dielectric are formed from a stretchable fabric wherein stretching of the fabric causes a region formed by overlapping electrodes to change in area and/or to decrease in thickness thereby causing a change in capacitance and/or resistance when the wearable item is deformed.
3) A sensor having a first electrode, a second electrode and a dielectric arranged to isolate the electrodes so as to provide a sensing capacitance across the electrodes and a resistance along the electrodes, wherein one or more of the first electrode, second electrode and dielectric comprises a fabric and/or textile which capable of deforming to change the sensing capacitance and/or resistance.
3) The sensor of claim 2 wherein one or more of the electrodes may be formed from a conductive stretchable fabric or textile.
4) The sensor of claim 2 or 3 wherein one or more electrodes may be separated by a fabric suitable to provide a dielectric for the two electrodes.
5) The sensor of claim 2, 3 or 4 wherein one or the first and second electrodes comprises a fabric. 6) The sensor of claim 5 wherein the fabric incorporates an electrically conductive component.
7) The sensor of claim 6 wherein the electrically conductive component of the stretchable fabric is an electrically conductive fibre which is inextensible and the structure of the fabric is such that stretching of the electrode fabric does not result in significant stretching of the electrically conductive fibres. 8) The sensor of claim 6 comprising electrically conductive fibres which are extensible wherein stretching the electrode fabric results in significant stretching of the electrically conductive fibres.
9) The sensor of claim 6 wherein the electrically conductive component of the stretchable fabric used for the electrodes is a network of discrete yet interconnecting electrically conductive particles interspersed amongst fibres of the fabric.
10) The sensor of claim 6 wherein the electrically conductive component of the stretchable fabric used for the electrodes may be a network of
interconnecting electrically conductive particles coating one or more of the fabric's constituent fibers.
11) The sensor of claim 6 wherein the electrically conductive component of the stretchable fabric used for the electrodes is layer integrated with the fabric.
12) The sensor of any one of claims 2 toll wherein electrodes are bonded to the dielectric by way of a sewn stitch.
13) The sensor of any one of claims 3 to 13 wherein the electrodes are bonded to the dielectric by way of a flexible and compliant adhesive.
14) The sensor of claims 13 wherein the flexible and compliant adhesive is electrically conductive.
15) The sensor of claims 13 wherein the flexible and compliant adhesive is dielectric.
16) The sensor of any one of claims 13 to 15 wherein the electrodes are bonded to the dielectric by way of a combination of two or more of a sewn stitch, a flexible and compliant adhesive, and a flexible and compliant electrically conductive adhesive.
17) The sensor of any one of claims 2 to 16 wherein the fabric is elastic and/or resilient so as to return to the original state after deformation to allow sensing for multiple instances of deformation. 18) The sensor of any one of claims 2 to 17 wherein the fabric has mechanical properties selected to provide a selected change in capacitance for a given stretch to allow degrees of stretch to be sensed and/or
measured.
19) The sensor of any one of claims 2 to 18 comprising a shielding electrode which is separated from one or more of the electrodes which provide a capacitance, wherein the shielding electrode can be grounded to provide shielding for the shielded electrode.
20) The sensor of claim 19 wherein the shielding electrode comprises fabric.
21) The sensor of any one of claims 3 to 20 comprising an encapsulating layer of material.
22) The sensor of any one of claims 2 to 21 wherein the dielectric includes micro-particles or nano-particles of high dielectric constant or conductive material to increase the dielectric constant of the dielectric. 23) The sensor of any one of claims 2 to 22 wherein one or more of the electrode and dielectric layers are arranged to extend beyond one or more of the other layers so as to provide a tab to allow the sensor integrated with a wearable item by a tab being sewn or bonded to the item. 24) The sensor of any one of claims 2 to 24 comprising two or more electrodes which do not entirely overlap so as to provide tabs to allow the electrodes to be connected separately to a sensing circuit.
25) The sensor of any one of claims 2 to 24 comprising a set of two or more strip electrodes separated by another set of one or more strip electrodes by a dielectric wherein the two sets are arranged at an angle relative to each other.
26) The sensor of claim 25 wherein the two sets of electrodes form a grid to allow sensing of changes capacitance caused by localised stretching wherein positional stretch information can be measured.
27) A wearable item having a sensor as claimed in any one of claims 2 to 26 integrated with a fabric item.
28) The wearable item of claim 27 formed by electrodes attached to the fabric of the wearable item.
29) The wearable item of claim 29 formed by electrodes sewn to a dielectric fabric item.
Some embodiments of the present invention combine the textile-processing compatibility of electrically conductive fabrics with the improved
performance of capacitive sensors to provide a stretchable capacitive sensor configuration where the primary components of the sensor, i.e., the electrodes and the dielectric, are made from stretchable fabric, and the sensor can be formed using the same conventional textile processing techniques used in the fabrication of wearable items, so that there exists the potential that in the process of producing a wearable item the sensor is also formed.
PCT/NZ2014/000119 2013-06-17 2014-06-17 Stretchable fabric sensors WO2014204323A1 (en)

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