UK researchers are to develop smart textiles, including a moisture sensing yarn, that can be embedded into a pilot's clothing as part of a research project designed to monitor stress levels in the cockpit.

According to the team from Nottingham Trent University, thermistors and resistance temperature detector (RTD) chips embedded into the yarns, which make the pilot's clothing, will measure heart rate, perspiration, and body temperature.

In addition, as the heart rate is monitored via an electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor system, it will also be possible to monitor fatigue and tell when a pilot is losing alertness.

"By using smart textiles we're able to provide new prognostic and diagnostic techniques for pilot monitoring in a completely non-intrusive way," explains professor Tilak Dias from Nottingham Trent's school of art and design, who will lead the university's Advanced Textiles Research Group. "This will enable the collection of data which will indicate the psychological experiences a pilot goes through while navigating a plane, potentially through unknown situations."

The project – named Active Simulator Cockpit Enhancement (ASCENT) - is part of a wider research scheme to enhance cockpit simulators, funded by the European Commission to the tune of GBP1.24m (US$1.62m). It is led by SerTec Engineering, Spain, with Paragon SA, Greece, and Nottingham Trent University as co-investigators.

Working alongside Dias, senior lecturer and researcher William Hurley adds the data collected via the smart textiles technology will be "invaluable" for the training and development of pilots and help pave the way for new technologies to be integrated into the cockpit quicker.

"By monitoring a pilot's mental state while testing any new technologies in a simulator, a better understanding can be developed of how these technologies can be integrated into a cockpit," he adds.