Dr Shirley Coyle

World Health Day: Dr Shirley Coyle’s smart garments – the next generation of wearable health tech

Submitted on Friday, 07/04/2023

Today, April 7th, is World Health Day and we’re taking the opportunity to highlight the work of Dr Shirley Coyle, an Insight DCU Funded Investigator. Dr Coyle’s team are developing wearable technologies for future healthcare delivery, including new sensor devices, brain computer interfacing and home rehabilitation systems.

Dr Coyle’s research is centred around smart and interactive textiles that can be integrated into garments to sense the body. Smart garments that measure body movements and physiological signals could revolutionise the way we monitor our health by providing early indicators of injury or illness, and providing personalised feedback on recovery from injuries. Smart textiles and wearable sensors can also provide new ways of interacting with human-computer systems such as immersive VR systems to support home rehabilitation exercise programmes.

Coyle’s team is integrating electronics and sensors into textiles for continuous monitoring in applications in sports, health and rehabilitation. The next generation of wearable technology will be smart garments, where the sensors, electronic, power and wireless connectivity are all integrated into the fabric itself. The team is developing energy harvesting textiles powered by the wearer’s physical movements and self-powered sensors to create sustainable solutions for the future Internet of Things. This research involves the development of triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) which can be integrated into the fibres and fabrics that we wear.

Not only can smart garments sense the body and our well-being but they can also provide sensory feedback to the wearer e.g. providing a sense of touch or deep pressure as a therapeutic intervention to alleviate anxiety. Such technology can even be combined with EEG brain signals to control soft exoskeletons for assistive technology and rehabilitation.

Dr Coyle’s research expertise and interests include wearable sensors for health, well-being, and sports. Her research is a testament to the importance of interdisciplinary research in developing new technologies that can have a real-world impact on our health and well-being.

Dr Coyle says, “Wearable technology has a valuable role in global health, not only to provide information about trends across populations, but also to empower the individual with greater awareness of their own well-being, and using this to inform more holistic healthcare delivery for the future”.

Prof Tomas Ward (Director at Insight SFI Research Centre, DCU) says, “On World Health Day, it’s important to remember the importance of monitoring our health regularly. With wearable devices we can potentially detect the early signs of illness. From a prevention perspective we can take proactive measures to maintain our health and prevent the onset of diseases. Dr. Coyle’s wearable smart textiles project is a step in the right direction towards revolutionising healthcare and enabling continuous monitoring of an individual’s health status”.