The Bionic Bra: Researchers making bra of the future

Posted at 10:21 AM, Dec 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-11 12:30:19-05

Victoria’s Secret is so last year. Soon, women may enjoy high-tech breast support from a “bionic bra.”

Researchers in Australia have developed a prototype sports bra that they say automatically tightens when it senses breast movement, offering customized support that could reduce back pain and other health problems.

The bra is just a crude prototype for now, enhanced with strips of smart fabric.

“Unfortunately, the most supportive sports bras tend to be the most uncomfortable to wear,” said University of Wollongong professor Julie Steele, director of Breast Research Australia (yes, that’s BRA for short).

Steele said BRA’s research has found that 85% of women “are wearing bras that do not fit or support their breasts correctly.” She said lack of proper breast support can cause long-term neck and back pain as well as numbness in the fingers from compression of nerves on the shoulders.

In a news release, Steele and her colleagues refer to their creation as “the world’s first bionic bra,” although that’s something of a misnomer. “Bionic” typically refers to body parts that have been enhanced by electromechanical components, but this bra prototype is made from “smart” yarn containing sensors that detect breast motion.

Professors Julie Steele and Gordon Wallace, from left, with researcher Sheridan Gho, demonstrate their “bionic bra.”

The idea is that the bra could offer firm support while its wearer is walking or running and then relax to a more comfortable fit when she’s sitting still.

Steele and fellow University of Wollongong professor Gordon Wallace began working on the bra 15 years ago, but only recently did technology catch up with their vision for the product.

“Our ability to make things from advanced materials has been greatly enhanced recently with the advent of new approaches to fabrication … such as 3-D printing,” said Wallace, executive research director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science.

For now, the undergarment remains a crude prototype, essentially a sports bra enhanced with strips of proprietary smart fabric fastened across the back. The next challenge for the researchers will be integrating their technology into a functional and comfortable bra.

“We still have a way to go before the Bionic Bra can be taken from the bench top to the washing machine,” Steele said. “However, when finished, the Bionic Bra will transform bra design.”