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Northeastern’s smart shirt aims to prevent pitcher’s elbow

By Mark Baard
Globe Correspondent / March 1, 2010

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Dice-K shouldn’t be the only athlete worrying about his mechanics and how they might be pulling his body apart.

A Milton High School cheerleader, an Emmanuel College basketball player, or a parent hauling a big kid around on his hip all risk being sidelined with excruciatingly painful injuries.

But e-textiles will soon be here, to warn us before our elbows pop or our discs slip.

A sensor-covered “datalogging’’ compression shirt for baseball pitchers, which detects signs of bad mechanics before they lead to torn ligaments, is an example of how e-textiles can support good health. (Hardcore athletes already train with snug-fitting compression shirts, which are believed to reduce soreness and swelling.)

The datalogging shirt, designed by students at the Northeastern University College of Engineering (, has three motion sensors, mounted on boards that are sewn into the garment with conductive threads.

The conductive threads relay signals from the shirt’s sensors to a serial port at its lower back.

The cables and fibers on the back of the prototype shirt make anyone wearing it look like Spider Man’s evil twin. A thicker cable connected to the shirt’s serial port also connects to a laptop computer, for recording and readout.

But a Northeastern mechanical engineering student, Alexandra Morgan, said future versions of the shirt will be wireless. They will also include gyroscopes that will pinpoint the positions of body parts over time.

The datalogging shirt, Morgan said, can easily be used to help prevent tennis elbow, as well.

And the same electronics in the shirt - as one of my Emmanuel College students, a basketball player, suggested - could also be threaded into a pair of compression pants to monitor women’s knees, Morgan said. (Researchers say women are more susceptible than men to torn ACLs.)

Morgan and her colleagues, in a paper describing the datalogging shirt, wrote that the garment can be made for under $200.

Motorola BackFlip gets the picture
If you were among those initially drawn to the Android, you might have jumped on the G1, and then kicked yourself when you realized how hinky the original device (and, in particular, its camera) was.

The picture is improving for Android phones, however.

Last week, I was knocked out by Motorola’s delightful BackFlip (for more information go to, which has 5 megapixels, an LED flash, a camera, and a 320x480 touchscreen.

The BackFlip has a foldout keypad that doubles as a kickstand for the device, so it can serve as your mini-TV and bedside alarm clock.

Better still, the BackFlip’s 3.1 inch screen has a trackpad navigation tool on its back that you can use when the keyboard is folded open.

The BackFlip comes with a service, MotoBlur, which you can use to check status updates from Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, all from a single widget, and without opening those other apps. (MotoBlur has its own perks, too, such as giving you the opportunity to see a caller’s FB status and to palm him off to voice mail, if he appears to be in a vile mood.)

The BackFlip, which will be available from AT&T next week, is AT&T’s first Android device. The phone, with a contract and after a rebate, will cost about $100.