Professor Sundaresan Jayaraman tries on his invention, the first Wearable Motherboard.
When Georgia Tech's Sundaresan Jayaraman invented the computerized Smart Shirt ten years ago with military funding, he initially intended it for wear only in combat situations. Designed with optical fibers and sensors woven in, the lightweight T-shirt can monitor soldiers' vital signs and detect bullet wounds, electronically transmitting this information to medical triage units near the battlefield.
After realizing that the Smart Shirt's Wearable Motherboard technology could have much wider medical uses - such as the remote monitoring of patients' condition after they return home from surgery - Jayaraman recognized that he, too, could play a bigger role in enhancing the healthcare system.
So this professor of polymer, textile and fiber engineering expanded his focus beyond technology innovation to include healthcare management, obtaining a joint appointment at the College of Management last year. He is in the process of establishing a Center for Management and Technology Innovation in Healthcare at the business school.
"Because of my Smart Shirt work, I've come to value the role of technology in enhancing healthcare," says Jayaraman, who joined Georgia Tech's faculty in 1985. "Management innovation is the fuel that sustains the technology innovation engine."
Still in the early stages of developing the center, Jayaraman is now working on research proposals with DeKalb Medical Center and building an advisory board. He has assembled a team of information-technology management, operations-management, and organizational-behavior professors at the business school whose research will holistically examine best-management practices in a patient-centered healthcare system. Other academic areas will eventually become involved.
Integrating multiple perspectives, the center will serve as a forum for doctors, patients, insurers, and all other parties involved in the healthcare-delivery continuum - from the research institutions and biotech companies developing innovations to the venture capitalists funding them to the pharmaceutical companies bringing medical breakthroughs to market.
The Smart Shirt that started it all is finally getting close to market itself. Invented by Jayaraman and research associate Sungmee Park, the Smart Shirt's technology was licensed from Georgia Tech in 2000 by Sensatex Inc., which plans to introduce products in the near future.
In addition to combat care, other possible uses of the Smart Shirt include the remote monitoring of infants at risk of sudden infant death syndrome, astronauts in space, athletes competing, and law-enforcement officials on duty.
Over the years, the Smart Shirt has garnered a great deal of attention. The History Channel's Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge recently selected the shirt as one of twenty-five semi-finalists out of 4,200 entries. This spring it will be featured in the competition's traveling exhibition, visiting museums in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and Akron, Ohio, before heading to New York for an awards presentation May 23. The overall winner will receive a $25,000 grant and be featured on the History Channel's Modern Marvels program.
In 2002, the Smart Shirt earned a place in the Smithsonian Institute's collection of important items in the history of textiles. Time and Newsweek magazines have highlighted it as a groundbreaking invention.