Dress to de-stress

Nobody likes feeling stressed, but it is something most of us will experience at some point in our lives. For some people, however, stress is much more than just an inconvenience.

A project starting at TU Delft is hoping to look into how smart textiles can detect and reduce stress by designing a jacket for war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The idea was inspired by a design innovation project called ‘Keep Your Shirt On!', and spurred by what researcher Dr. Marco Rozendaal calls "a conviction in what design can do". Rozendaal, a faculty member from the Connected Everyday Lab in the Industrial Design (IO) faculty is collaborating on this research with Dr. Kaspar Jansen, professor of Emerging Materials also from IO. 'Keep Your Shirt On!’ looked at ways to help the everyday lives of people with PTSD by increasing body awareness, and this is the impetus behind the jacket for veterans.

The intention is for smart textiles in the design to respond to stress in a way that both reduces these symptoms, and helps the wearer recognize them. In Rozendaal‘s words "It's a coaching tool to help you deal with things better." As the project is still in its infancy there are several directions the research may take, however a likely candidate is 'muscle wire’. This is a textile made of metal alloys or polymers which can change shape when it takes on heat, which could reduce stress by tightening parts of the garment to regulate breathing, for example.

The jacket will have to do more than function effectively; it must also integrate into the lives of the users. The researchers will work with veterans and their families, as well as psychologists, caretakers and scientists, and they have already started doing research with different user groups as to the potential ethical issues and social implications of the project. Though designed for veterans, it is intended that the technology will be expanded to help people with other stress disorders.

On a larger scale, Rozendaal believes this jacket will set an important precedent for a world developing wearables, smart devices and the internet of things. "I think what we may show with this project is how we might design this future in a respectful, human like way."