De Rossi, who has worked on robotic skin and motion-capture tech for Darpa and the US National Institutes of Health, began exploring the idea of fabric as a data-collection medium 12 years ago. Most of his designs employ thin, pliable strands of conductive steel spun with cotton or polyester fibers into yarn. The Wealthy suit has nine electrodes and conductive leads woven in, yet the fabric looks and feels completely normal.
The challenge in incorporating sensors into clothing — even skin-tight unitards — is that the fabric shifts when the body moves, resulting in sloppy, irregular signals. To deal with this, De Rossi's team developed software algorithms to clean up the data, along with code to reconstruct the wearer's movements. These programs are the real genius behind the company's work.
"Even when you are sick, if you have something that doesn't look nice, you don't want to put it on."