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'Conscious Clothing' measures the junk you're breathing

Add "pollution intake" to your quantified-self profile. A prize-winning system calculates particulate matter inhaled and transmits the data in real time via Bluetooth.

Conscious clothing measures inhaled particulates and the body's reaction. Conscious Clothing

Note to all you slightly obsessed folks out there who are into tracking your quantified self: isn't it about time you started keeping track of not just all the calories you inhale, but the air pollution as well?

The prototype for just such a device, dubbed Conscious Clothing, and the trio of designers who created it, were awarded $100,000 this week as part of an innovation challenge sponsored by (deep breath) the National Institutes of Health, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The system is described as a "wearable breathing analysis tool" made up of sensors and strips of material wrapped around the chest to measure breathing volume. It calculates the particulate matter inhaled and transmits real-time data via Bluetooth, making it a perfect addition to any self data-tracking regime.

It's not clear who might get their hands on the system next, but it's likely that researchers, regulators, and academics would be first in line and could use Conscious Clothing, say, to track pollution trends in specific places, such as downwind from a power plant.

"With people wearing these new data-collecting devices, researchers will be able to see and understand the relationships between varying levels of air pollutants and individual health responses in real time," Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which is part of NIH, said in a release. "This is a big step toward treating and, more importantly, preventing disease and illness."

There's no word yet of plans for the device to be available for consumers.

David Balshaw, program administrator at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences told me via e-mail that "the ($100,000) prize is a reward for the innovation of the team; it is not intended to serve as funding for product development. The team is looking for additional funding to support continued development and commercialization of the device."

Until then, there's always this pollution-tracking T-shirt, but big time self-quantifiers can still dream of the day anyone will be able to track the fine particulate matter being taken into your lungs with the same ease as measuring the amount of polyunsaturated fats heading for your gut. In the end, after all, it's all about health.

Update, 1:20 p.m. PT: to add a quote from David Balshaw.