Drexel’s wearable-tech lab is making ‘a radio out of fabric’ for pregnant women

The "belly band" is the first venture out of Drexel's Shima Seiki Haute Technology Lab.

The first invention out of Drexel University’s wearable-tech lab is a knitted piece of fabric that wraps around a pregnant women’s stomach and measures her contractions.

It’s called a belly band and it’s a far cry from what hospitals use now, a plastic device connected to a belt that requires women to stay tethered to a bed, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The team behind Drexel’s belly band hopes to start clinical trials in the next six months.

Here’s a look at the technology behind the band, which one researcher described as an effort to make “a radio out of fabric,” according to the Inquirer report.

The band contains a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, technology used for tracking pets and vehicles. Electrically conductive thread made of stainless steel or silver is used to knit a pattern across the center of the band. That serves as the antenna, which transmits data to an RFID reader in the room, a cellphone, or bay station of some kind.


As the belly band stretches, the frequency of radio waves sent to the RFID reader changes. By analyzing this signal, any tiny stretch in the band due to contractions can be monitored.

Drexel’s wearables lab — the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Lab — is run by Genevieve Dion, who recently won Scientist of the Year at this year’s Philadelphia Geek Awards. The lab is named after computerized knitting manufacturer Shima Seiki USA who donated more than $1 million worth of equipment to the lab in 2012.

Companies: Drexel University / ExCITe Center

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