Wireless body sensor networks based on metamaterial textiles


Wireless networks of sensors, displays and smart devices that can be placed on a person’s body could have applications in health monitoring, medical interventions and human–machine interfaces. Such wireless body networks are, however, typically energy-inefficient and vulnerable to eavesdropping because they rely on radio-wave communications. Here, we report energy-efficient and secure wireless body sensor networks that are interconnected through radio surface plasmons propagating on metamaterial textiles. The approach uses clothing made from conductive fabrics that can support surface-plasmon-like modes at radio communication frequencies. Our body sensor networks enhance transmission efficiencies by three orders of magnitude compared to conventional radiative networks without the metamaterial textile, and confine wireless communication to within 10 cm of the body. We also show that the approach can offer wireless power transfer that is robust to motion and textile-based wireless touch sensing.

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Fig. 1: Wireless body sensor networks with metamaterial textiles.
Fig. 2: Design of metamaterial textiles and wave devices.
Fig. 3: Energy-efficient wireless communication on the body.
Fig. 4: Secure wireless body sensor networks.
Fig. 5: Textile-based wireless power transfer and touch sensing.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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The authors thank Z. Goh for assistance with the art in Fig. 1. J.S.H. acknowledges support from National Research Foundation Singapore (NRFF2017-07) and an NUS Young Investigator Award. B.C.K.T. acknowledges support from National Research Foundation Singapore (NRFF2017-08) and an NUS Startup Grant. Both J.S.H. and B.C.K.T. acknowledge support from Institute for Health Innovation and Technology grants. X.T., H.Y. and Z.L. acknowledge support from the NUS Research Scholarship.

Author information

X.T., P.M.L., B.C.K.T. and J.S.H. conceived and planned the research. X.T., P.M.L., Y.J.T., T.L.Y.W., H.Y., M.Z., Z.L., K.A.N. and J.S.H. designed the metamaterial textiles, sensor nodes and performed the experiments. X.T., P.M.L. and J.S.H. wrote the paper with input from all the authors.

Correspondence to John S. Ho.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–16.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Video 1

Secure wireless communications with metamaterial textiles. A Bluetooth sensor node is placed on the shoulder of a subject wearing metamaterial textiles and transmits an electrocardiogram (ECG) signal. The signal is received by a smartphone and the ECG waveform is displayed on the screen. Two examples of data transmission are shown. First, the user places the wrist near the smartphone and moves the wrist away. Second, the smartphone is placed near the chest and moved away from the body. In both examples, the ECG waveform is displayed only when the smartphone is within a few centimetres of the body.

Supplementary Video 2

Wireless power transfer and textile-based sensing. An antenna transmitting a continuous radiofrequency signal comparable to a WiFi signal (100 mW) is placed on the shoulder of a user who is wearing metamaterial textiles. A wireless energy-harvesting device powers a light-emitting diode (LED) when placed on the sleeve, even during motion of the arm. Placing the index finger above the metamaterial textile results in a change in the LED brightness. An interactive smartphone application can wirelessly detect textile touch by monitoring the Bluetooth signal transmission and change the display of an image.

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