A Canadian wearable tech startup that shot for the stars has successfully landed on the International Space Station.
Montreal-based Hexoskin, a leader in smart shirt technology, marked an exciting milestone when its wearable Astroskin, a smart fabric with real-time physiology monitoring, arrived at the space station aboard SpaceX CRS-16, a commercial resupply services mission in December.
An undisclosed number of these smart shirts will be worn by astronauts over the next six years, including Canada’s David Saint-Jacques, who rocketed to the space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.
Saint-Jacques, who is on his first space mission, deployed and began testing the technology referred to as the Bio-Monitor System last week.
Astroskin is designed to monitor an astronauts’ health and enable new science by continuously measuring physiological data. It can be worn during sleep and exercise. Astroskin has three components: a smart shirt made from stretchy materials, a head sensor that resembles a sweatband and a small recording device tucked into a pocket of the shirt. Five embedded sensors monitor the wearers’ blood oxygen levels, heart and breathing rates, blood pressure, activity and skin temperature. The sensors are powered by two AA batteries. To ensure continuous monitoring, the astronauts will replace the batteries every 48 hours over the next six years.
Data gathered is transmitted back to Earth where scientists monitor the astronauts’ health as they orbit the planet. This technology will be used to gain a better understanding of the impact space travel has on the body, including insights into sleep, circadian rhythm, blood pressure, vital signs and ageing.
Hexoskin founder’s Jean-François Roy and Pierre-Alexandre Fournier, both alumni of Montreal Polytechnique engineering faculty, have been developing garments with embedded sensor technology since 2006. The company is backed by a group of Canadian angel investors.
In 2011, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) awarded the company a contract to deliver a prototype version of the system that would eventually become Astroskin. They wanted to build a wearable suitable for space travel. Seven years later, Astroskin was ready for orbit.
“For Hexoskin, working with CSA means we can demonstrate our technology in the ultimate remote health monitoring scenario — space travel,” says Fournier.
To ensure Astroskin was ready for its space debut, Hexoskin ran a series of validation studies, certifications, and safety tests in Canada and the United States under the supervision of the CSA and NASA.