KUNAL MANKODIYA, a University of Rhode Island biomedical engineering professor, is making significant strides in his research on ways to transform wearable items into high-tech tools to help patients with Parkinson's disease. The director of URI's Wearable Biosensing Laboratory is working on converting socks, gloves, clothes and shoes into smart textiles embedded with sensors, electronics and software that can collect data from patients and deliver it directly to doctors.
How can wearable technology change the life of someone with Parkinson's disease?
Patients with Parkinson's disease suffer from various movement disabilities, including tremors on fingers and hands, slowness and rigidity in movement and speech, and walking difficulties. The disease affects them so much that they have limited mobility and can't drive to clinics frequently. They have to survive on treatments, such as medication or deep brain stimulation. For physicians, it is very difficult to treat this disease since it affects each patient uniquely. In a short clinical screening visit, neurologists gain a limited understanding of a patients' condition and therefore find it difficult to design an effective treatment plan. We have designed a smart glove that can allow physicians to assess their patients remotely. The smart glove can provide a picture of movement symptoms and how they change with regard to the treatment every day. In this way, patients can get remote, yet affordable and effective treatments.
Where do you see smart textiles going in the next five to 10 years? Can you predict any significant advances in wearable technology?
The field of smart textiles is one of the fastest-growing technologies in the world today. Now, we can start converting regular textiles into smart fabrics so that medical monitoring becomes an integral part of our life. Smart textiles have to work closely with other technological advancements, such as Internet of Things and cloud computing, to leverage complementary advantages. The smart glove is only one example. Our lab is currently working on smart socks, smart sleeves, smart T-shirt, and even [a] smart pet collar. •