Scientists have coated fabrics with electroactive materials, mimicking muscle fibers.
If you’ve seen Batman Begins, you may remember a scene where Bruce Wayne first receives his cape, which acts like a regular fabric, until an electric charge makes it rigid, allowing him to use it as a wing to glide through the air. Researchers at Linköping University and the University of Borås in Sweden have accomplished something quite similar by coating textiles in an electroactive material which allows the fabric to actuate like muscle fibers.
“Enormous and impressive advances have been made in the development of exoskeletons, which now enable people with disabilities to walk again. But the existing technology looks like rigid robotic suits. It is our dream to create exoskeletons that are similar to items of clothing, such as “running tights” that you can wear under your normal clothes. Such device could make it easier for older persons and those with impaired mobility to walk,” says Edwin Jager, associate professor at Division of Sensor and Actuator Systems, Linköping University.
Modern exoskeletons use air pressure and electric motors to provide power to the user through bulky mechanical components. The newly developed technique uses mass producible textiles as their base instead. When the applied electroactive material is subjected to a low voltage, it changes volume, expanding the fabric. How the material moves is determined by the structure of the knitting.
A snippet of electroactive textile.
“If we weave the fabric, for example, we can design it to produce a high force. In this case, the extension of the fabric is the same as that of the individual threads. But what happens is that the force developed is much higher when the threads are connected in parallel in the weave. This is the same as in our muscles. Alternatively, we can use an extremely stretchable knitted structure in order to increase the effective extension,” says Nils-Krister Persson, associate professor in the Smart Textiles Initiative at the Swedish School of Textiles, University of Borås.
source: Science Advances