The causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) aren’t entirely understood, but its consequences are definitely tragic. According to recent figures, approximately 2,500 infants with the disorder cease breathing and subsequently perish every year, in the U.S. alone. While devices such as skin tone-monitoring cameras have been put to use to warn parents when their sleeping babies stop breathing, now researchers are looking into something else – a romper with an integrated stretchable circuit board.
The potentially life-saving baby clothing was designed at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration.
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The circuit board itself is made from polyurethane, using conventional manufacturing processes – this means, hopefully, that a commercial version of the romper shouldn’t be too expensive. Because polyurethane is so stretchy, the circuit board conforms to the contours of the baby’s chest and stomach, stretching back and forth as the baby breathes. The idea is that if the infant stops breathing, sensors will detect the cease of movement, and set off an alarm. Parents can then rouse the child, to get them breathing again.
It’s unclear whether or not the romper has been tested on actual babies yet, but the Fraunhofer team are already looking towards other applications for the stretchable circuit boards. These could include lighting built into cars’ roof lining materials, and pressure bandages that provide feedback to nurses applying them.
Another particularly promising application is the testing of kidney function. Presently, such tests involve injecting the patient with a substance that can only be broken down by the kidneys, then performing blood tests over a three-hour period to see if that substance is indeed being removed from the bloodstream.
In the future, however, it is hoped that a plaster made from one of the polyurethane circuit boards could be equipped with a photodetector and a blue LED, then placed on the patient’s skin. The blue light would cause an injected organic colorant to fluoresce, which would in turn allow it to be detected by the photodetector – no more blood tests would be needed, plus it would reportedly be more accurate and cost-effective than the present method.
Plans have been made for clinical tests, although it may be three to five years before such plasters could come into use.