Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Spacesuit of the future could power gadgetry with body heat

by Elizabeth Armstrong Moore December 3, 2013 10:33 AM PST

Researchers at Kansas State are investigating how the difference in temperature between body heat and a spacesuit's cooling garment could run the suit's electronics.

Kansas State engineering students work with a model spacesuit to explore the potential integration of wearable medical sensors.
Credit: Kansas State University
Wondering what's next in wearable electronics? Fitness trackers like the Fitbit Force and the Nike+ FuelBand SE may be fine for the earthbound, but for the astronauts among us, NASA's working on a different kind of fashionable circuitry.

At Kansas State University, researchers are just over two years into a three-year, $750,000 NASA grant to turn current spacesuits into even better readers of astronauts' vital signs -- and on top of that, make use of the inner workings of the suits themselves to power radios and other embedded electronics.

"Right now the spacesuits pretty much only measure heart rate," said William Kuhn, professor of electrical and computer engineering and part of the spacesuit team, which includes engineering professors and a dozen-plus students. "In this project we're focused on EMGs [electromyography] that can monitor muscle activity. The biggest problem that the astronauts have when they're doing their work is they get very fatigued because of the pressure in the suits, so we're focusing on being able to predict when they're going to be fatigued so we can help them reorder their tasks in space."

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