NASA's Wearable Electronics Application and Research (WEAR) Lab is interested in attaching technology to the body of an astronaut without building it into a custom garment. Our team responded by marrying technology targeting health and fitness with a form fitting attachment method.
PHASE 1: CONTEXT
THE BODY IN SPACE
In a free fall gravity environment, the body adapts to the lack of gravitational pull by eliminating muscle tissue. Muscle mass decreases at a rate as high as 5% a week, most notably in the leg and back muscles that experience less load bearing. To combat muscle atrophy, astronauts are required to exercise vigorously aboard the station in order to preserve muscle mass.
Electromyography (EMG) is a contemporary technique used to monitor muscle health. Adhering several surface EMG electrodes to large muscle groups detect electrical signals as the muscles contract. The Myomonitor, developed by Delsys Inc., for example, is an electrode to skin interface that's been evaluated by NASA to study the muscles of astronauts in free fall gravity.
PHASE 2: IDEATE + CONCEPT
Initial concepts explore environmental and orientation sensors. Having a stronger interest in human anatomy, I made a pivot to target health and fitness so that our product could really tackle the complexities of the human body.
Tactical harness sketch (right) establishes the design direction of MYOWEAR.
PHASE 3: THE TECH
Our engineer, Eesha, proposed the use of an acoustic sensor to test for muscle fatigue. Acoustic myography records the low frequency sounds generated by the muscles during contraction. This sound is observed to be between 10-50 Hz, with a peak around 25 Hz. The amplitude of this signal decreases as stress in a particular muscle increases. This phenomenon can be used to monitor muscle health without having to dip into the cost of electromyography.
A low frequency acoustic sensor will be incorporated into the harness, placed in direct contact against the skin. Muscle contractions during exercise or daily motions will be recorded on a data acquisition system. The advantage of acoustic myography lies in its non-invasive technique that is easy to use and operate for the purpose of proving our concept.
Two large muscle groups, the pectorals and quadriceps, have been targeted for monitoring.
PHASE 4: THE HARNESS
Developing our patterns, construction, as well as fabrics. The final prototype (Proto 5), uses a combination of both neoprene and spandex.
PHASE 5: INTEGRATING HARDWARE
Callout on the right illustrates how the acoustic sensor interfaces with the harness and skin surface. Keeping the wiring concealed and flexible to the stretch of spandex was essential in making this piece of technology wearable.
MYOWEAR monitors muscle contractions during exercise, improving data collection by providing real time biometric feedback for the user. Its attachment method, the form fitting full body harness, secures technology to the body, and has the potential to adapt to other pieces of equipment. Attaching technology to the astronaut's body not only improves their efficiency in completing tasks, but also highlights wearable technology's role in elevating their quality of life.
MYOWEAR was exhibited at: