Race cars are packed with sensors that constantly send back telemetry data to pit row here. In IndyCar’s number 10 team, the driver is also monitored thanks to a high-tech shirt.
A SHIRT BUILT FOR SPEED
The shirt is based on a fabric called Hitoe, it’s Japanese for single layer, and was developed by engineers at NTT Data, which sponsors the team, and Toray Industries.
In Hitoe, the nanofibers in the shirt are coated with an electro-conductive polymer, so the fabric itself is the sensor. For IndyCar, pieces of Hitoe fabric were attached to the fire resistant shirt that all drivers have to wear by regulation. And the result was this shirt for driver Tony Kanaan.
“The amazing thing about this shirt, it tells me my heart rate, it tells me the stress on my muscles with some of the sensors that I have underneath my forearms, my biceps and my core, which is very unique.”
Data from the shirt feeds into the car’s telemetry system and is sent to pit row for realtime analysis. What the team discovers can help Kanaan compete.
Brian Welling Support Engineer for 10 car “We can tell the heart rate realtime, we can tell muscle fatigue on the arms so if he is gripping the steering wheel too hard, and if that is the case we can say let off the steering wheel a bit on the straight away.”
If he grips less where he doesn’t need it, Kanaan can retain strength for the end of the race — giving him an edge at the end of the race.
“We’re learning about the whole atmosphere of this shirt. We’re starting to learn about the fatigure level, when you’re going through a corner, the drivers knew it but we didn’t, they hold their breath a lot, all the way through the corner, you can learn to relax just a little bit more.”
Its use in IndyCar is but one application for Hitoe. A shirt using the fabric is already on sale in Japan and finding use in industry.
“A high-tech, high-tower construction worker, sensor worker, who is hundreds of feet in the air and what they are going through.”
Kanaan sees much greater uses for the shirt too, way beyond IndyCar.
“we’re working on this thing to help other people in hospitals. You can track it with your phone, so you can send patients home with the shirt and they don’t have to suffer through being depressed in a hospital. You’re still ill, but you are being monitored by wearing the shirt and a doctor can have an app or alarm on a phone that can tell if you’re in trouble or not.”
The shirt isn’t available in the U.S. yet, but will be soon.