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Smart shirt that can call for help

By Julie Clothier for CNN

The jacket is fitted with a sensor and a Bluetooth transmitter that communicates with a receiver.
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SINGAPORE (CNN) -- The term smart clothing is taking on a whole new meaning, thanks to a creation that raises an alarm if the wearer has a fall.

Associate Professor Francis Tay, from the mechanical engineering department at the National University of Singapore, has invented the "Memswear" device, so-called because it uses Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (Mems) engineering.

Mems are machines built on such a tiny scale that they are invisible to the human eye.

Tay's prototype is fitted with a small silicon detector, similar to the silicon chips in personal computers, which senses if the wearer has a fall.

Then, using Bluetooth technology, which transmits information wirelessly, a transmitter inside the shirt sends an alert from the wearer's mobile phone or home computer to a carer via text message, email or phone call.

"The transmitter is so small and light that you can put it in a piece of clothing. The sensor works in a similar way to an airbag sensor in a car steering wheel," he says.

"It can be taken out so that the clothing can be washed."

Tay says the design was created with the elderly in mind, but he is also developing a model for critically ill patients, which monitors their vital signs.

He also wants to see his invention used by the military and sports people.

"Eventually, you will be able to monitor a runner's cardio activity when they are on the track, and find out whether they are putting too much stress on their heart."

Tay is showcasing his invention at the Digital Convergence Conference in Singapore this week at a talk on using computer software and hardware to improve quality of life.

Andrea Lane, spokesperson for UK-based pensioner charity Age Concern, told CNN Tay's device was one of many recent inventions to make life easier for the elderly.

She says it could potentially invade the wearer's privacy and would be beneficial only if they gave full consent.

"We need to get the right balance of granting the elderly independence and respecting their rights and dignity," she says.

"I can see that this could help people to become more independent but research into preventing falls from happening in the first place is also very important."

Tay says he hopes his device will be available to buy in the near future, for about $60.

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