A 'Bionic Bra' that automatically tightens in response to breast movement is one step closer to reality

Current sports bras, while helping to limit breast movement, do have their limitations.

Breast size shouldn't be a barrier to an active lifestyle, yet exercise induced breast motion, and the associated pain, can discourage women from participating in physical activity. This lack of exercise can contribute to a whole range of health issues, including obesity.

Current sports bras, while helping to limit breast movement, do have their limitations.

"Unfortunately, the most supportive sports bras tend to be the most uncomfortable to wear. Making matters worse, our research has found that 85 per cent of women are wearing bras that do not fit or support their breasts correctly," said Professor Julie Steele, Director of Breast Research Australia (BRA), based at the University of Wollongong.

But imagine if we could give a bra a brain and muscles of its own so it could automatically tightens and loosens in response to breast movement.

An interdisciplinary team at UOW are getting close to making this a reality with the development of a new bionic bra prototype. Once commercially realised, the bionic bra will allow females to exercise in comfort, no matter the size of their breasts.

Work first started on the Bionic Bra more than fifteen years ago. However, technology is only starting to catch up with the researchers' imaginations.

Professor Gordon Wallace, Executive Research Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science based at UOW, said the Bionic Bra team has recently discovered new actuators and sensing technologies that will bring the bra to life.

"Our ability to make things from advanced materials has been greatly enhanced recently with the advent of new approaches to fabrication. The advent of approaches such as 3D printing has enabled us to assemble structures containing new sensing technologies to more accurately monitor movement and new artificial muscle technologies to control it. These advances have inspired us to (re)confront the challenges involved in creating the Bionic Bra," Professor Wallace said.

Professor Julie Steele has been working with Professor Wallace on the bra since its inception. She has also been investigating the movement of women's breast during physical activity for more than 15 years. She said without the right breast support, long-term damage can be done, including numbness in the fingers caused by compression of nerves on the shoulders, as well as neck and back pain.

While vast improvements have been made recently to the design of the Bionic Bra, the researchers say there are still some kinks to iron out.

"Although we have made substantial progress, we still have a way to go before the Bionic Bra can be taken from the bench top to the washing machine. However, when finished, the Bionic Bra will transform bra design," Professor Steele said.

"Results indicate that our technologies can sense breast motion and provide additional breast support. The challenge now is to integrate these technologies into a functional, comfortable bra," Bionic Bra team member Dr Sheridan Gho said.

Currently there is no feature in a bra to accommodate the diversity of breast shape. Most companies simply scale their bras up off one model, with little regard for the uniqueness of the human body. But with the introduction of three-dimensional computer-aided body scanning, BRA hopes to revolutionise apparel design.

In a unique new study BRA PhD candidate Celeste Coltman and PhD supervisor Dr Deirdre McGhee used hand-held 3D scanners to collect data on breast size and shape with the aim of translating that information into bras that better fit the diverse range of breast and torso shapes exhibited among the female population.

"We hope that the data from this research will inform future designs and even help pave the way for customisation in the fitting process, " Dr McGhee said.

Words by Adam Skinner. Adapted from an original article by Elise Pitt published to the UOW newsroom. See all our contributors.


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