This article was published on 11 December 2013
A smart fabric developed by Christchurch company Footfalls and Heartbeats Limited (FHL) is gaining global recognition after a life jacket designed with the textile won a top prize in an international design competition.
The fabric, which measures breathing and heart rates, has been used in developing a concept revival vest for divers which responds to changes in bodily signs by inflating and taking the wearer to the surface in an upright position, ready for resuscitation.
The vest won Victoria University industrial design graduate James McNab second equal placing in a global design competition run by the British-based James Dyson Foundation.
FHL’s founder, New Zealand chemistry researcher Simon McMaster, says the fabric gaining a top placing in the prestigious Dyson award is fantastic news for the company.
“It’s great to see word getting out about our novel and truly intelligent fabric.”
FHL received government research and development (R&D) funding in 2011 to help develop the sensory material.
The funding was used to develop prototypes and to participate in an international nanotechnology conference, where Simon was able to meet world-class scientists and make crucial connections.
“R&D is the lifeblood of any technology company and FHL is no different. In particular for an early-stage technology company, all advances in relevant and focused R&D make our technology more commercially viable,” says Simon.
“Government funding was critical to the success of our technology. Callaghan Innovation funds development and also presents different paths for commercial success by forcing an early stage company to remove the "blinkers" of research and find solutions to technical hurdles that are relevant to our innovation.”
Unlike other monitoring devices on the market, FHL’s innovative sensor material does not require wires, straps or miniature electronics. Instead, by using nanotechnology and textile structure, the actual fabric acts as the sensor. It is durable and comfortable to wear, working with the body and allowing maximum movement.
Auckland University of Technology and crown research institute AgResearch were involved in the development of the FHL fabric.
Potential applications for the product are varied and include medical devices, emergency services, medical monitoring, performance monitoring for athletes; and other opportunities like yachting and pressure sensing in wheelchairs and beds. One early application is expected to be compression bandages for use on diabetic ulcers.
Start-up investment firm Pacific Channel, which works with inventors to create high growth companies, is currently completing a market assessment with FHL and will soon be looking for commercial and other investment partners to take the start-up to the next level.