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URI engineering professor wins grant for smart textiles
Apr '17
Kunal Mankodiya; Courtesy: Michael Salerno Photography
Kunal Mankodiya; Courtesy: Michael Salerno Photography
A University of Rhode Island engineering professor researching on smart textiles has won $525,000 career grant over five years from the National Science Foundation. The highly competitive grant will help Kunal Mankodiya to continue researching and creating smart clothing such as gloves and socks that help people monitor their health from their homes.

The NSF grant is awarded annually to junior faculty who demonstrate groundbreaking research and innovation.

“It’s an honour to receive this nationally recognised grant. It allows us to keep striving for ways to improve the health – and lives – of people throughout the world,” says Mankodiya, 35, of Wakefield, assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering.

Smart textiles, also known as smart garments, electronic textiles and smart fabrics, are revolutionising the health care industry. The wearable items are embedded with sensors, electronics and software that can collect data and communicate it to caregivers.

The benefits of smart textiles for the patients are profound since their health can be monitored by doctors afar while they remain at home. Through iPad-like devices medical symptoms such as heart rate, respiration rate, activity and even posture can be monitored. This has psychological advantages with patients getting more involved in their care.

Mankodiya, director of URI’s wearable biosensing laboratory, is largely focusing on creating wearable items – gloves, socks and shoes – that help people with Parkinson’s, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. Mankodiya and his students have already created gloves embedded with sensors on the fingers and thumb that measure tremors and rigidity, which are common symptoms of Parkinson’s. The team is also fabricating smart socks to monitor gait abnormalities.

“This project will have a profound impact on the growing number of elderly patients with Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions including strokes,” says Mankodiya. “Patients, without visiting clinics, will be able to independently perform movement exercises - like finger tapping and hand flipping - that doctors can analyse over the internet, immediately or later. Smart textiles will transform today’s costly medical practices.”

Mankodiya is collaborating with Susan Hannel, chair of URI’s department of textiles, merchandising and fashion design, and Dr. Umer Akbar, a neurologist at Rhode Island Hospital who specialises in treatment for Parkinson’s. The grant will also support health technology hack-a-thons at the University.

Besides running his lab, Mankodiya teaches a popular course called the “Wearable Internet of Things.” He is also collaborating with URI’s business engagement center to encourage local textile companies to partner with the University to create high-tech products. (SV)

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