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Title:
TEXTILE ELECTRONIC CONTACT
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/155238
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
There is provided a connector for providing an interface between an external data collection module and a textile, the textile having a plurality of sensors incorporated within it, wherein the plurality of sensors are adapted to be in electrical communication with the connector. The connector comprises: an elongate strip manufactured from a flexible material and divided into a first portion and a second portion, the elongate strip comprising at least a first layer and the connector further comprising a plurality of transmission paths wherein: the first portion is configured to enable connection of the connector to the textile and is further configured to facilitate electrical communication with the plurality of sensors; the second portion is unconnected to the textile and enables flexible connection with the external data collection module; a first end of each transmission path is positioned so as to enable electrical communication with at least one sensor located within the textile; and a second end of each transmission path is configured to electrically connect with the external data collection module.

Inventors:
MCMASTER, Simon Adair (12 Stamford Road, Colsterworth, Grantham Lincolnshire NG33 5JD, NG33 5JD, GB)
KELLY, Fern Mary (4 Promenade, Nottingham Nottinghamshire NG3 1HB, NG3 1HB, GB)
SALISBURY, Byron Kirk (Apartment 1, Living Quarter2 St. Mary's Gate, Nottingham Nottinghamshire NG1 1PF, NG1 1PF, GB)
Application Number:
GB2019/050370
Publication Date:
August 15, 2019
Filing Date:
February 12, 2019
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
FOOTFALLS AND HEARTBEATS (UK) LIMITED (Innovation Building, BioCityPennyfoot Street, Nottingham Nottinghamshire NG1 1GF, NG1 1GF, GB)
International Classes:
A61B5/00; A41D13/12
Domestic Patent References:
WO2014165997A12014-10-16
Foreign References:
US20170040758A12017-02-09
US20150359485A12015-12-17
US20100041974A12010-02-18
Other References:
LINA M CASTANO ET AL: "Smart fabric sensors and e-textile technologies: a review", SMART MATERIALS AND STRUCTURES., vol. 23, no. 5, 1 April 2014 (2014-04-01), GB, pages 053001, XP055558922, ISSN: 0964-1726, DOI: 10.1088/0964-1726/23/5/053001
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
CREASE, Devanand et al. (Keltie LLP, No. 1 London Bridge, London SE1 9BA, SE1 9BA, GB)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1 . A connector for providing an interface between an external data collection module and a textile, the textile having a plurality of sensors incorporated within it, wherein the plurality of sensors are adapted to be in electrical communication with the connector, the connector comprising: an elongate strip manufactured from a flexible material and divided into a first portion and a second portion, the elongate strip comprising at least a first layer and the connector further comprising a plurality of transmission paths wherein: the first portion is configured to enable connection of the connector to the textile and is further configured to facilitate electrical communication with the plurality of sensors; the second portion is unconnected to the textile and enables flexible connection with the external data collection module; a first end of each transmission path is positioned so as to enable electrical communication with at least one sensor located within the textile; and a second end of each transmission path is configured to electrically connect with the external data collection module.

2. The connector of any preceding claim, wherein each transmission path is a transmission line.

3. The connector of Claim 2, wherein the flexible material is a polymer or a textile.

4. The connector of Claim 2 or Claim 3, the elongate strip further comprising two layers, wherein the transmission lines are comprised within both layers of the elongate strip.

5. The connector of Claim 4, the elongate strip further comprising an insulating layer disposed between the two layers.

6. The connector of any of Claims 2 to 5, wherein the transmission lines are printed, embroidered, or etched into the elongate strip.

7. The connector of any preceding claim, comprising a first set of contacts having a plurality of contacts, wherein each contact of the first set of contacts is located at the first end of each transmission path and wherein each contact is configured for electrical communication with a respective sensor.

8. The connector of Claim 7, comprising a second set of contacts having a plurality of contacts, wherein each contact of the second set of contacts is located at the second end of each transmission path and wherein each contact is configured for electrical connection with the external data collection module.

9. The connector of Claim 8, wherein each contact of the second set of contacts is configured for electrical connection with a respective pin of the external data collection module, wherein the pin is configured to pass through the elongate strip.

10. The connector of any of Claims 7 to 9, wherein each contact of the first set and/or second set of contacts is embroidered through the first layer.

11. The connector of any of Claims 7 to 10, wherein each transmission path is an electrically conductive yarn covered in an insulative polymer and knitted into the elongate strip, and wherein each contact of the first set and/or the second set of contacts comprises an exposed portion of the transmission yarn etched from the polymer covering the yarn.

12. The connector of any preceding claim incorporating a multiplexer.

13. The connector of Claim 12, wherein the multiplexer is positioned between the first portion and the second portion.

14. A textile incorporating the connector of any preceding claim.

15. The textile of Claim 14, wherein the sensors are integrally incorporating into the textile.

16. The textile of Claim 15, wherein each sensor comprises conductive yarns that are knitted into the textile, the sensors configured to sense physical and/or physiological output from the wearer by detecting a variation in the position, composition, contact resistance between, displacement of and/or distance between the conductive yarns in the sensors.

17. The textile of any of Claims 14 to 16, wherein the textile forms part of a garment, an upholstery cover, a bandage, or a dressing.

Description:
TEXTILE ELECTRONIC CONTACT

TECHNICAL FIELD

The invention relates to connectors for connecting sensors that can be placed in contact with or close to human skin and monitor physical, physiological, or clinical signs, especially wearable sensors, and measurement devices.

BACKGROUND

Interconnections that connect textile-based sensors to an electronics module on any form of apparel or textile based sensing system have at least two inherent problems.

Firstly, the interconnections need to be via a solid metallic or polymeric surface to allow robust and reliable electrical connection for both power delivery and data/signal collection. This often requires using a solid metallic structure or polymer-metal composite structure such as a pin and jack, stud, clip or plug and socket arrangement to ensure repeatable and robust connection (power) in addition to reliable data transmission.

Secondly, the textiles/electronics interface is often the most common aspect of sensor failure. Due to the use of incompatible materials and manufacturing techniques, failure at this interface occurs in a high number of textile based sensor systems. The mechanical degradation due to laundering and water ingress during use are also key contributors to this failure.

In addition to the mechanical and moisture management problems, there exists a further cultural component to the design of this interface due the differing age and sex of wearers. In general users of such textile based sensors will differ in age, gender, strength and dexterity. In most cases, this difference will manifest itself as an inability to interact correctly with the electronics interface (open/close, compliance, comfort). Age is probably the most relevant as human dexterity diminishes with age. A complicated interconnection system may present user compliance issues for the elderly and infirm. Gender and strength are less relevant, however, they may impact on interconnection placement and size.

One attempt at creating a viable connector can be found in patent documents US 9186092 B2 and US 9427179 B2. The connectors described in these documents use metallic snaps which are affixed to the textile via a polymer surface. The snaps sit above the textile surface and are said to allow reliable, secure and repeatable placement of the electronics module onto the sensor system due to the magnetic nature of snaps. However, the many layered structure may present mechanical degradation issues. Other examples can be found in US 2015/0047091 A1 , among others. In US 2015/0047091 A1 , an electronics module is snapped into place on an exterior surface of a garment. The connection here is also formed via metallic connectors. The interconnection module is designed to“merge” into the garment structure. However, once again, the module size and shape may present compliance issues.

In other examples, snap connectors formed of hard plastic components allow power supply and data to be located in one place. Whilst this arrangement allows for a consistently secure connection over repeated applications and for extended periods, wearer comfort and compliance present major difficulties when using this type of connection.

Methods and devices described above often use the following materials:

1. TPU

A conductive polyurethane adhesive tape. This type of tape provides excellent connection and good flexibility. TPU is a smooth and mostly non-porous polymer. However, the non-porous properties often lead to build-up of moisture, which can contribute to device failure and user discomfort. Smooth materials are also irritable to skin, because human skin does not like the sensation of being in contact with very smooth surfaces.

2. Metallic Connectors

The majority of textile based sensor systems have at least one metallic“snap” connection. This connection can be either mechanical or magnetic. They are typically robust and repeatable as connection systems. It is noted that mechanical failure can occur at these interconnections due to the flexible nature of the textile and the incompatibility of hardness and textile durability. Such interconnections offer a high risk of user injury during use or during connection. These metallic connections are often very small in area and when a large force is applied skin and tissue damage are likely.

3. Polymer surfaces

Polymer surfaces are used in two distinct areas.

Firstly, a hard polymer surface is often used to anchor the metallic connections. Such surfaces can allow for enhanced connection accuracy and hence better power distribution and data collection.

Secondly, hard polymers are also used to enclose the electronics. Such polymer casings need to absorb considerable forces and not shatter. A brittle polymer would heighten the risk of skin and tissue damage due to the shape and sharpness of pieces if the polymer enclosure was broken. It would be desirable to provide a connection system for use with a textile-based sensor that allows for robust connection and power transfer but which does not compromise user comfort or compliance.

It is an object of the present invention to overcome at least some of the difficulties associated with the prior art.

SUMMARY

According to an aspect of the invention, there is provided a connector for providing an interface between an external data collection module and a textile. The textile has a plurality of sensors incorporated within it. The plurality of sensors are adapted to be in electrical communication with the connector. The connector comprises an elongate strip manufactured from a flexible material and a plurality of transmission paths. The elongate strip is divided into a first portion and a second portion. The elongate strip comprises at least a first layer. The first portion is configured to enable connection of the connector to the textile and is further configured to facilitate electrical communication with the plurality of sensors. The second portion is unconnected to the textile and enables flexible connection with the external data collection module. A first end of each transmission path is positioned so as to enable electrical communication with at least one sensor located within the textile. A second end of each transmission path is configured to electrically connect with the external data collection module.

Advantageously, the connector provides a flexible, durable, easy-to-manufacture, and reliable interconnection between sensors or sensing elements within a textile and data collection modules or systems. For example, the sensors may be integrally incorporated within the textile, for example being formed using knitted yarns having a contact resistance whose changes can be measure. Alternatively, the sensors may be held between two layers of the textile, or may be attached to a surface of the textile. The connector is particularly useful by being formed of a flexible material, facilitating easy use and manipulation. The flexibility of the connector also aids during use of the connector connected to a garment or dressing textile, for example, as it reduces the impact and inconvenience of the connector on the user.

Each transmission path may be a transmission line, and the flexible material may be a polymer or a textile.

The elongate strip may comprise two layers. The transmission lines may be comprised within both layers of the elongate strip. Having transmission lines on each of two layers increases the number of transmission lines that may be incorporated, thereby increasing the number of sensors that may be monitored without having to increase the width or length of the connector. The elongate strip may comprise an insulating layer disposed between the two layers.

The transmission lines may be printed, embroidered, or etched into the elongate strip. The connector may comprise a first set of contacts having a plurality of contacts. Each contact of the first set of contacts may be located at the first end of each transmission path. Each contact may be configured for electrical communication with a respective sensor. The connector may comprise a second set of contacts having a plurality of contacts. Each contact of the second set of contacts may be located at the second end of each transmission path. Each contact may be configured for electrical connection with the external data collection module.

Each contact of the second set of contacts may be configured for electrical connection with a respective pin of the external data collection module. The pin may be configured to pass through the elongate strip. Each contact of the first set and/or second set of contacts may be embroidered through the first layer.

Optionally each transmission path is an electrically conductive yarn covered in an insulative polymer. Each transmission path may be knitted into the elongate strip. Each contact of the first set and/or the second set of contacts may comprise an exposed portion of the transmission yarn etched from the polymer covering the yarn.

The connector may incorporate a multiplexer. Optionally, the multiplexer is positioned between the first portion and the second portion. A multiplexer further enhances the usefulness of the connector, by allowing a reduction in size of at least a portion of the connector. This is achieved by reducing the number of transmission lines required. For example, where the multiplexer is positioned between the first portion and the second portion, the number of transmission lines required on one of the portions may be reduced. In some cases, the number of transmission lines required is reduced by a factor of 4.

According to another aspect of the invention, there is provided a textile incorporating the connector as described above. The sensors may be integrally incorporated into the textile. Each sensor may comprise conductive yarns that are knitted into the textile. The sensors may be configured to sense physical and/or physiological output from the wearer by detecting a variation in the position, composition, contact resistance between, displacement of and/or distance between the conductive yarns in the sensors. The textile may form part of a garment, an upholstery cover, a bandage, or a dressing.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS

An embodiment of the invention will now be described, by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which: Figure 1 is a photograph of a textile connector attached to a sock according to an embodiment of the invention;

Figure 2 is a diagrammatic representation of the textile connector attached to the sock as shown in Figure 1 ;

Figure 3 is a schematic representation of a sensing system including the textile connector and sock of Figures 1 and 2, and a data collection/transmission module;

Figures 4a to 4c are representations of the three layers of the textile connector of Figures 1 and 2 prior to attachment to the sock;

Figures 5a and 5b are representations of the first and third layers of the textile connector of Figures 4a and 4c after assembly and application of the connector to the sock; and

Figure 6 is a diagram representing how a data collection/transmission module may be connected to the textile connector;

Figure 7 is a perspective view of a data collection/transmission module connecting to the textile connector; and

Figure 8 is a further perspective view of a data collection/transmission module connecting to the textile connector.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

All references cited herein are incorporated by reference in their entirety. Unless otherwise defined, all technical and scientific terms used herein have the same meaning as commonly understood by one of ordinary skill in the art to which this invention belongs.

Prior to setting forth the invention, a number of definitions are provided that will assist in the understanding of the invention.

As used in this description, the singular forms‘a,’‘an,’ and‘the’ include plural referents unless the context clearly dictates otherwise. Thus, for example, the term“a sensor” is intended to mean a single sensor or more than one sensor or to an array of sensors. For the purposes of this specification, terms such as‘forward,’‘rearward,’‘front,’‘back,’‘rig ht,’‘left,’‘upwardly,’‘downwardly,’ and the like are words of convenience and are not to be construed as limiting terms. Additionally, any reference referred to as being‘incorporated herein’ is to be understood as being incorporated in its entirety. As used herein, the term‘comprising’ means any of the recited elements are necessarily included and other elements may optionally be included as well. ‘Consisting essentially of means any recited elements are necessarily included, elements that would materially affect the basic and novel characteristics of the listed elements are excluded, and other elements may optionally be included. ‘Consisting of means that all elements other than those listed are excluded. Embodiments defined by each of these terms are within the scope of this invention.

As used herein, the term‘textile’ and‘fabric’ refers to a flexible material manufactured from a plurality of individual fibres that have been combined. A textile or fabric may be woven, non-woven, knitted, crocheted, spread or made by any other kind of interlacing that may be achieved using fibres. A textile or fabric may be considered to define a three-dimensional matrix. A‘fibre’ used in relation to a textile refers to any substantially elongate yarn or thread.

The textiles or fabrics may be incorporated into a wearable garment, medical dressing, compression stocking or band, and upholstery or furnishing. As used herein, the term‘garment’ is intended to refer to an item of clothing worn by a human or animal subject. The terms‘upholstery’ and‘furnishing’ are used to refer to fabrics and textiles that can come into contact with at least part of the body of a human or animal subject under normal use, such as seat covers, carpets, bed sheets,

As used herein, the term‘transmission path’ relates to a connecting line arranged on or within the textile connector. Transmission paths may be electrically connecting‘transmission lines’ or‘tracks’. A transmission line may transmit data or power. Transmission lines extend between portions of the textile connector that connect to a data collection/transmission module and the traces contained in the textile. The transmission paths or lines may be printed onto the connector, etched into the connector, or may comprise electrically conductive yarn knitted into the connector.

As used herein, the term ‘data collection/transmission module’ refers to a module for remote connection to and sensing in relation to textile sensors incorporated into a garment or textile. Data collection/transmission modules may incorporate wireless communication means, and/or processing units to make use of the data. Data collection/transmission modules electrically connect to the textile connector by a‘crocodile clip’ type arrangement using conductive pins.

As used herein, the term ‘contact zone’ refers to an area of a textile connector configured for connection to a data collection/transmission module. The contact zone may incorporate a plurality of contacts that align with or connect to pins within the data collection/transmission module.

As used herein, the term‘transmission zone’ is an area of a textile connector in which connections are formed between contacts or ends of transmission lines and traces within the textile. There exists a distinction between the transmission zone and the contact zone in the form of a central fold at least to restrict cross-transmission or deformation of the textile connector where deformation should not be taking place.

As used herein, the term‘contact’, also‘pad’, refers to an electrically conductive area or patch on or in a textile. Contacts may be incorporated into the textile by any suitable means, such as by embroidery, printing, adhering a contact to the textile, or etching the base yarns. Contacts form points of connection and interface between two electrically conductive elements and also permit attachment of one element to another element. Typically, contacts occupy a relatively small area or volume within the textile, typically within the contact zone, suitably less than about 20%, more suitably less than 10%, optionally less than 5% of the total area or volume occupied by a specified contact zone.

As used herein, the term ‘pin’ refers to a tooth, protrusion, or projection from a surface of a data collection/transmission module for engaging with a contact or end of a transmission line comprised within a contact zone of a textile connector. A pin may be static or sprung so as to impart a biasing force from the rear to facilitate a gripping connection with the contact zone or with an contact comprised within the contact zone. A pin may be configured to deform the textile, or to pierce, penetrate, or pass through the textile. A pin may be incapable of separation from the textile once in contact with the textile without causing damage to the contact, transmission line, or textile. For example, a pin may comprise a gripping mechanism to enable passage through a textile but to prevent its removal from the textile. Alternatively, the data collection module may be configured to lock once attached to the textile connector so that its removal is not possible without damaging either the module or the connector.

As used herein, the term‘array’, in relation to arrangements of pins or contacts, is a predetermined spatial arrangement of items relative to one another and on a base or substrate.

As used herein, the term‘trace’ refers to electrically conductive connecting lines for effecting electrical connection between the connector and a textile based sensor (or any other sensor) comprised within a textile garment, bandage, dressing, fabric, cover etc. The trace may be comprised within the textile and provides electrical communication and connection via the three dimensional matrix - i.e. it is not applied to the surface of the textile as a transfer, but is comprised within the fabric itself.

As used herein, the term‘textile sensor’ refers to a sensor embedded within the textile itself, such that a deformation of the textile structure gives rise to changes in measurable parameters. The textile sensor is typically integrated within the textile by means of knitting, and may utilise changes in contact resistance to facilitate measurement of parameters.

As used herein, the term‘terminal portion’ refers to an end of a trace, furthest removed (i.e. distal) from the textile sensor. The terminal portion is comprised within a contact zone that may be proximate to an edge boundary, or within a tag or label affixed to the textile and extending beyond the edge boundary of the textile. The terminal portion defines a region for engagement and electrical connection with at least one pin comprised within the connector.

As used herein, the term‘connection’, in relation to connections between pins and contacts, involves deformation of the terminal portion about the pin in order to effect three dimensional engagement between pin and trace.

As used herein, the term‘edge boundary’ refers to a hem, folded edge, or external seam of a textile.

Figure 1 is an image of a sock 10, having a textile connector 20 attached to it. The textile connector 20 provides a textile-based interface between a data collection/transmission module (not shown), and textile sensors (not shown) incorporated into the sock 10. While a sock 10 is represented throughout the figures of the detailed description of this application, the textile connector 20 may be used to form an interface between the data collection module and sensors incorporating within any textile.

In the following examples, it is assumed that the sensors of the present embodiment are integrally incorporated within the textile forming the sock 10, by knitting conductive yarn into the sock 10. Textile sensors of this type are described in the patent applications WO 2014/122619 and WO 2015/022671 . A number of other textile sensors exist that may be used with connecting wiring or yarns, and the textile connector 20 described herein is compatible with any such textile sensor. Other textile sensors may be used for a variety of different purposes such as physiological monitoring, geographical monitoring, temperature, movement sensing (accelerometry) and many others.

For background, a typical arrangement of an integrally knitted textile sensor comprises a sensing area, comprising an arrangement of yarns or stitches forming a textile sensor, and connecting means, in the form of an electrical trace extending from the sensing area, for connecting to a data collection/transmission module. A trace may transmit either power or data to or from a sensing area. A terminal portion of the trace connects to the data collection/transmission module via an interface. Sensing is achieved by variation in the position, composition, contact resistance or displacement of or distance between yarns in the sensing area. A single textile may incorporate a plurality of sensing areas and sensors, such that a plurality of traces is required. In the embodiments below, it will be assumed that each sensing area has two associated traces to form a circuit when connected to a power source, although other arrangements are permissible.

Returning to the image in Figure 1 , and also now considering Figure 2, the textile connector 20 comprises an elongate strip 22 divided into two distinct portions 24, 26 either side of a central fold 28. The elongate strip 22 may be manufactured from any textile, fabric or other flexible material or combination of these, provided that it has three distinct layers of substantially similar dimensions. The textile, fabric or flexible material must also be capable of connecting to the sock 10 by attachment means to facilitate an interface between sensing elements. For example, the textile connector 20 being made of the same material as the sock 10 would be desirable, and may result in the textile connector 20 that becomes technically integral with the sock 10. In some cases, a polymer or a flexible laminate may be sufficient. As will be discussed below, the textile connector 20 may comprise a combination of different materials suited to the particular function they perform within the textile connector 10.

A first portion 24 exists between a first end 30 and the central fold 28 of the elongate strip 22. The first portion 24 connects the textile connector 20 to the sock 10 at a transmission zone, and is configured to connect to the terminal portion of at least one trace (not shown) associated with a sensor (not shown) in the sock 10 to permit sensing of the required parameters. The first portion 24 is shown in Figures 1 and 2 as being connected to the sock 10 at an edge boundary 32, such that the central fold 28 lies on the edge boundary 32 of the sock 10 with the first portion 24 extending away from the boundary 32 and away from the opening (not shown) of the sock 10, towards the foot (not shown) of the sock 10. In this way, the edge boundary 32 is utilised to help to form the central fold 28 in the textile connector 20 to delineate the first and second portions 24, 26.

The second portion 26 is unconnected to the sock 10, and is free to hang loosely to enable flexible connection to a data collection/transmission module (not shown in Figures 1 and 2). The second portion 26, which is the same width and length as the first portion 24, extends from the central fold 28 to the second end 34 of the elongate strip 22.

In addition to the elongate strip 22, the textile connector further incorporates a plurality of transmission paths, in this case transmission lines 40, and arrays of contacts 42. The contacts are depicted in the figures as embroidered contacts, although contacts may be incorporated into a textile connector in many different ways, as will be discussed later in relation to alternative embodiments of the connector. The transmission lines 40 electrically connect the first and second portions 24, 26 of the textile connector 20, and are able to form part of a circuit to supply power to the sensors (not shown) in the sock 10, or to form a data transmission line to the sensors. In the embodiments shown, only a single transmission line of the plurality of transmission lines 40 is used for power transmission. The embroidered contacts 42 interconnect the transmission lines 40 and facilitate connection between the data collection/transmission module and the connector 20, and between the connector 20 and the traces, in use. In this way, a data collection/transmission module connected to the second portion 26 at a contact zone can transmit and receive information from the second portion 26, which in turn is connected to the traces and sensors of the sock 10.

The transmission lines 40 extend along the strip 22, between the portions 24, 26, such that a first end of each transmission line 40 is positioned on the first portion 24, and such that a second end is positioned on the second portion 26. Put another way, the transmission lines 40 form a connecting pathway between the portions 24, 26, and, in use, form a connecting pathway between the data collection/transmission module and the sock 10, and to each individual sensor incorporated into the sock 10.

In the same way that the elongate strip 22 may be formed of any material having sufficient flexibility to enable the textile connector 20 to function correctly, it will also be appreciated that the transmission lines 40 may be incorporated into the textile connector 20 in a number of suitable manners. The transmission lines 40 may be printed using conductive inks onto a surface of the elongate strip 22 or embroidered in the fabric of the elongate strip 22 by knitting, weaving or another method as necessary. The method by which the transmission lines 40 are incorporated into/onto the elongate strip 22 is dependent upon the material used to manufacture the elongate strip 22.

Figure 3 illustrates a schematic diagram of the arrangement of the textile connector 20 in relation to the sock 10, textile sensors 17, and the data collection/transmission module 80. As shown in Figure 3, the data collection/transmission module 80 connects electrically to the textile connector 20 at a contact zone 21 comprised on the elongate strip 22. The connection is not illustrated here, but is facilitated by the three-dimensional connection of a plurality of pins and embroidered contacts, and is described below in relation to Figures 6 to 8. Data and power transmitted from the data collection/transmission module 80 to the contact zone 21 is transmitted via transmission lines 40 to the transmission zone 23. The contact zone 21 incorporates a plurality of embroidered contacts 42 and is specifically designed for connection with the data collection/transmission module 80. The transmission zone 23 is also specifically designed for information transfer, transmitting information received via the transmission lines 40 to embroidered contacts and to the traces 15 within the textile matrix of the sock 10. The traces 15, as described above, transmit the power or data to the textile sensors 17 integrated within the sock 10, and by the operation of the sensor 17, measurement data can be transferred back to the transmission zone 23 by a trace 15. The measurement data passes from the transmission zone 23 back to the contact zone 21 via different transmission lines 40 and from the contact zone 21 back to the data collection/transmission module 80 for analysis.

Although not shown in Figures 1 or 2, the textile connector 20 comprises three layers of flexible material, each having identical dimensions. The three layers 50, 60, 70 are shown in Figures 4a to 4c. Figures 4a to 4c illustrate the front of each layer in a form that would be provided prior to assembly of the connector. The three layers 50, 60, 70 are joined together to form the elongate strip 22 and each have respective first and second portions 52, 54, 62, 64, 72, 74 which together form the first and second portions 24, 26 of the strip 22. Figures 4a to 4c show the positions of two positioning holes 56, 58 the central fold 28 lines between first and second portions 52, 54, 62, 64, 72, 74, and the initially provided embroidered contacts 42 and transmission lines 40 for each layer.

The two positioning holes 56, 58 are formed through each layer 50, 60, 70 and are aligned when the elongate strip 22 is assembled. The positioning holes 56, 58 align with positioning pegs (not shown in these figures) of the data collection/transmission module (not shown) to enable correct orientation of the data collection/transmission module relative to the connector 20, and to ensure that the data collection/transmission module’s sensing apparatus is aligned with the correct embroidered contact 42. The two positioning holes 56, 58 are positioned on the second portion 54, 64, 74 of each layer 50, 60, 70, relatively close to the fold line 28, and lying adjacent opposite boundaries of each layer 50, 60, 70.

It can be seen from Figures 4a to 4c that only the first and third layers 50, 70 are provided with transmission lines 40. The second layer 60 acts as an insulating layer between the first and third layers 50, 70, so that the transmission lines 40 are electrically isolated from each other.

The first and third layers 50, 70 incorporate a plurality of pre-provided transmission lines 40. The maximum possible number of transmission lines 40 for the available space are utilised on the third layer 70. The first layer 50 provides an additional space for transmission lines 40 so as to increase the available area available on the connector 20 for transmission lines 40. The provision of an extra layer, and the separation achieved by an intermediate, insulating second layer 60, results in a thinner, practical textile connector 20. If all contacts and transmission lines were required to be incorporated into a single layer of a textile connector, the width of the connector required would be impractical. The increased area for transmission lines and embroidered contacts permits connection of the textile connector 20 to a sock 10 incorporating in excess of 10 sensors. Some textile connectors 20 may connector to socks 10 incorporating in excess of 20 sensors, and in some embodiments, in excess of 30 sensors.

Importantly, it can be seen in Figure 3c that the third layer 70 is not symmetrical, having one more transmission line 40 on one side of the layer 70 than on the other. This provides a distinction between the front and back of the layer, and the front and back of the textile connector 20 in use. The extra transmission line 40 is used for power transmission.

Returning to Figures 4a to 4c, some embroidered contacts 42 are initially provided on the second portion 54 of the first layer 50 only, within the contact zone. Each embroidered contact 42 is positioned at the end of a respective transmission line 40. In use, the second portion 54 of the first layer 50 forms the point at which the data collection/transmission module connects to the strip 22, thereby defining the contact zone 21 . Therefore, embroidered contacts 42 are provided on this portion 54 of the first layer 50, which will be uppermost in relation to the data collection/transmission module. The connection is shown in more detail in Figures 7 and 8, and will be discussed later in relation to Figures 5a to 8. In use, therefore, the contacts 42 positioned on the second portion 54 of the first layer 50 are for the purpose of providing an electrical connection between the transmission lines 40 and the data collection/transmission module (not shown).

The formation of the textile connector will now be described with reference to Figures 4a to 4c, and 5a and 5b. Figures 5a and 5b show the first and third layers 50, 70 of the textile connector 20 in their final states, i.e. when connected to the sock 10, with the first layer 50, shown in Figure 5a being at the rear of the connector and connected to the sock, and the third layer 70, Figure 5b, being at the front, furthest from the sock 10.

Initially, the three layers 50, 60, 70 are provided in the states shown in Figures 4a to 4c, with the contacts 42 of the second portion 54 of the first layer 50 pre-embroidered and the transmission lines 40 pre-formed. Having provided the three layers 50, 60, 70, the ends of each layer 50, 60, 70 are aligned so that the elongate strip 22 is partially formed but not joined together.

The second and third layers 60, 70 are then joined together by adhering the front of the second layer 60 to the rear of the third layer 70 at both the first and second portion.

The combined second and third layer is then joined to the first layer 50 by adhering the back of the second layer 60 to the front of the first layer 50 by its second portion 54 only. This results in all three layers 50, 60, 70 being adhered to one another, but with the first layer 50 being separate to the second and third layers 60, 70 at the first portions 52, 62, 72 as far as the fold line.

Having joined the layers in this manner, a new set of contacts 42 are embroidered from the ends of the transmission lines 40 lying in the second portion 74 of the third layer 70 through the third, second and first layers 70, 60, 50. A matching first set of contacts are therefore formed on each of the front and rear faces of the connector 20, as shown using the illustrative dashed boxes A1 and A2 in Figures 5a and 5b. As described above, the contacts in illustrative box B of Figure 5a were preembroidered.

Following this embroidery, the first, second and third layers 50, 60, 70 are bonded to each other by both the adhesive used to initially join them together, and also by the embroidery of this first set of contacts passing through and affixing the three layers 50, 60, 70.

The contacts 42 on the second portion 54 of the first layer 50 or rear face, now shown in Figure 5a, therefore form the array of contacts that are configured to connect with the pins of a data collection/transmission module.

Having assembled the connector in this way, the rear (not shown) of the first layer 50 is adhered to the sock 10 at its first portion 52 only. The second portion 26 of the connector 20 (i.e. the combined second portions 54, 64, 74 of the first, second and third layers 50, 60, 70) is left to hang loose as described above and as shown in Figures 1 and 2.

The joining of the layers 50, 60, 70 by adherence in the above steps is used to hold the layers 50, 60, 70 in place relative to one another prior to embroidery or other subsequent fixing, and does not impact the operation of the connector 20 whatsoever. Having glued the connector 20 to the sock 10 at the first layer 50, with the first portions 64, 74 of the second and third layers 60, 70 hanging free, a further set of contacts 42 are embroidered through the first layer 50 at the ends of the transmission lines 40 of the first layer 50 that lie in the first portion 52. These contacts, shown in Figure 5a in box C connect to traces within the sock 10.

The combined, freely hanging, first portions 62, 72 of the second and third layers 60, 70 are glued to the first portion 52 of the first layer 50, such that the first portions 52, 62, 72 of all three layers 50, 60, 70 are secured to one another and the sock, and such that the second portions 54, 64, 74 are also secured to one another. Thus, the second and first portion 26, 24 of the textile connector 20 are fully formed.

A final set of contacts 24 are embroidered through from the ends of the transmission lines 40 in the first portion 72 of the third layer 70, through the second layer 60 and to the first layer 50. As in the second layer, matching contacts are formed on each of the two layers, as shown in boxes D1 and D2 of Figures 5a and 5b respectively.

Thus, a transmission zone is formed, with the embroidered contacts in boxes C and D1 connecting directly to traces within the sock 10.

The embroidery and adhesive of these first portions fixes the textile connector 20 to the sock 10, although some additional non-conductive embroidery or other fixing means may be used to provide additional reinforcement to the bond between the sock 10 and the connector 20. This would typically be done close to the fold line 28.

So, the first layer 50, will be adjacent the sock surface when the strip 22 is attached to the sock 10. The elongate strip 22 comprises a first layer 50, attached to the sock 10 at its first portion 52 and with a second portion 54 unattached to the sock 10, a second layer 60 attached to the first layer 50, and a third layer 70 attached to the second layer 60 on the opposite side of the second layer 60 to side that is connected to the first layer 50. The first and second portions 62, 64 of the second layer 60 are connected to the first and second portions 52, 54 of the first layer 50 respectively, while the first and second portions 62, 64 of the second layer 60 also connect to the first and second portions 72, 74 of the third layer 70 respectively. Embroidered contacts 42 pass through the layers to facilitate various connections.

In being assembled in this way, the first portions 52, 62, 72 of the first, second, and third layers 50, 60, 70 are all attached to the sock 10 via the first portion 52 of the first layer 50. The second portions 54, 64, 74 of the first, second, and third layers 50, 60, 70 all hang unattached to the sock 10 and define the contact zone for attachment to the data collection/transmission module. The central fold lines 28 of the first, second and third layer 50, 60, 70 are aligned, as are their positioning means 56, 58, in the form of holes positioned on either side of the layer 50, 60, 70.

The textile connector 20 is connected to the terminal portions of the trace by embroidery used to form electrical contacts 42, and this embroidery is also used to connect the first portion 52 of the first layer 50 to the sock 10. The embroidery utilises conductive yarn, and therefore forms an electrical connection between the connector 20 and the sock 10. Other reinforcing attachment may also be used using non-conductive yarns to attach the connector to the sock as required.

Having connected the textile connector 20 to the sock 10, and formed an electrical connection between the textile connector 20 and the sensors within the sock 10, the data collection/transmission module can be utilised to perform measurements.

The data collection/transmission module 80 connects to the contact zone of the textile connector 20 as shown in Figures 6 to 8. The sensor device 80 comprises a body 82 and a hinged jaw 84. Together the body 82 and jaw 84 define a clip arrangement which is capable of engaging with the contact zone of the textile connector 20. The data collection/transmission module 80 is configured to receive the second portion 26 of the strip 22, which comprises the contact zone, within a sensing area 86 between the body 82 and the hinged jaw 84 of the device 80. The device 80 is able to clamp the strip 22 between the body 82 and the jaw 84. In doing so, an array of conductive pins 88 protruding from the body 82 of the data collection/transmission module 80, which are arranged in a formation identical to the array of contacts 40 on the second portion 54 of the first layer 50 of the connector 20, engage the embroidered contacts 40 arranged on the second portion 54 of the first layer 50. Through this contact, electrical connections are formed by the pins 88 with the transmission lines 40 and the desired transmission and reception of power and information is achieved. As discussed above, the data collection/transmission module 80 also incorporates two positioning pegs 90, 92 which pass through the positioning holes 56, 58 to enable precise positioning of the device 80 relative to the strip 22.

Once the hinged jaw 84 and body 82 of the device 80 have been brought together, and the pins 88 fully engage the embroidered contacts 40, deforming the structure of the textile connector 20 sufficiently to distort each contact 40 about each pin 88, forming a connection in which the contact 40 surrounds the pin 88 of the device 80. Hence, the engagement between each pin 88 and each contact 40 occurs in three dimensions thereby increasing the available contact area for communication beyond that for a mere planar engagement. This enables the data collection/transmission module 80 to monitor parameters measured at the sensors. The data collection/transmission module 80 may be configured to then communicate readings to an external processing system (not shown) as required for output to a user.

The advantages of the above solution are as follows: • Mechanical failure of the connector is less likely, in contrast to previously where there may have been incompatible structures.

• The connector is much more mechanically durable throughout the wearing and washing processes.

• The connector is easy to manufacture.

• The connector is easy to integrate into existing textile structures.

• The connector can be placed at most convenient location depending on application and user interaction, which was no possible previously due to mechanical considerations.

• The connector can be made as small as possible.

• The connector can be at the edge of the garment or apparel, or alternatively on internal surfaces of the garment or apparel.

A number of alternative embodiments are possible, and will now be described.

According to some embodiments, a textile connector is provided having a single layer only, rather than three layers. The textile connector incorporates transmission lines extending between first and second portions of the connector, and configured to connect to the sensors via the traces, or to the data collection module.

In alternative embodiments, textile connectors have two layers, each of which incorporates transmission lines and contacts, configured to restrict electrical connection between each of the layers. For example, in some cases, the transmission lines are applied to only one side of the layer so that a face of one or each layer provides the required insulation between transmission layers. In one particular example, transmission lines are printed onto a face of the first layer that is in contact with the garment, this first layer being equivalent to the first layer of the connector described in reference to the Figures above. Transmission lines are also printed onto a face of the second layer that faces outwardly, this second layer being equivalent to the third layer of the described embodiment above. The opposite faces of the first and second layers are in contact, within the connector. However, as the transmission lines are printed only to the outer faces of the connector, there is electrical insulation between the transmission lines of the two layers, so that the function of the connector is the same as in the above embodiment, except utilising only two layers.

In further alternative embodiments, a plurality of layers may be incorporated in excess of three. For example, a plurality of layers incorporating transmission lines may be used that are interleaved with insulating layers. As many layers may be incorporated as necessary to achieve the required number of lines. In alternative embodiments, layers may be incorporated having a transmission lines applied to one side only, as described above in the two-layer embodiment, but with an insulating face of each layer above the second layer abutting a conducting face of the layer below. In some embodiments, the textile connector may incorporate transmission lines that connect directly to sensors or traces, and/or directly to the data collection module. In some embodiments, the contacts may be formed from the transmission line, for example by exposing a length of the transmission line by removing a polymer covering surrounding an electrically conductive yarn or wire. The textile connector may incorporate transmission lines in each layer that are configured to 16 sensors. More or fewer transmission lines may be incorporated as desired.

According to a number of embodiments, textile connectors may incorporate printed transmission lines, embroidered transmission lines, etched transmission lines, transmission lines knitted into the connector, or transmission lines formed using other techniques suited for providing flexible electronics. In some embodiments, the transmission lines are formed using a combination of different techniques. Similarly, the contacts may be formed using similar techniques, or may be pre-formed and incorporated using a suitable technique.

In particular embodiments, the transmission lines and/or contacts are formed according to the type of pin used by the data collection module that the connector is intended to be used with.

The textile connector comprises a multiplexer in several embodiments. The multiplexer may be incorporated between the textile and the first portion, on the first portion, on the second portion, on the textile, or between the first portion and the second portion. The multiplexer enables a reduction in the number of transmission lines required on at least part of the textile connector, and so permits a reduction in size of the textile connector. For example, if a multiplexer is incorporated between the first and second portions of the connector, the second portion that hangs loose may incorporate fewer transmission lines for the data collection module to connect to, and therefore, may be thinner and shorter than would otherwise be required. Accordingly, the data collection module may also be smaller and lighter.

Textile connectors may be integrally formed with the textile to which they connect. Furthermore, a textile connector may be attached to a textile complete with a data collection module. Together, the textile connector and data collection module may be positioned or encapsulated in a pocket formed between two layers of the textile.

In some embodiments, the textile connector may be removably attached to the textile.

Textile connectors of the embodiments above may be particularly useful for use in medical applications, and in particular for ambulatory care by attachment to a dressing or bandage. Movements of patients may be easily monitored remotely or by the patient using the textile connector, bandage, and data collection module.




 
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