Technology 3 min read

New Robotic Fabric Can Enable Innovative Adaptive Clothing

PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay.com

PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay.com

A team of researchers at Yale have developed a robotic fabric that could enable new high-tech clothing, including robotic parachutes.

For a while now, researchers have been experimenting with the idea of smart clothing.

For example, fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger is a lifestyle brand that makes regular clothes, footwear, and accessories. However, the brand is also known for designing what is known as adaptive clothing.

It involves incorporating technology — such as magnetic buttons — into clothing to make it more accessible. That way, people can put on their clothes faster in the morning. More importantly, adaptive clothing is useful for individuals with disabilities.

Now, a team of scientists at Yale University has developed a new robotic fabric that’ll take smart clothing to the next level.

According to the researchers, the fabric can change its stiffness and shape on demand. It can also sense its environment. Along with creating more adaptive clothing, the material could also usher in other innovations.

These include tents that set themselves up, robotic parachutes, and lightweight, shape-changing machinery.

In a statement to the press, researcher at Yale University, Prof. Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio said:

 “Fabrics are a ubiquitous material used in a wide range of products, and the ability to ‘roboticize’ some of these products opens up many possibilities.”

The researchers described the smart material in a published paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Creating a Robotic Fabric for Adaptive Clothing

First, the researchers created a range of fibers with different abilities and wove them into everyday fabrics.

For example, they added a fiber that contains particles of an alloy called Field’s metal. That way, the fabric can become soft and malleable at above room temperature, and lock to a particular shape when cooled.

The lead author of the study, Trevor Buckner, explained:

“Our Field’s metal-epoxy composite can become as flexible as latex rubber or as stiff as hard acrylic, over 1,000 times more rigid, just by heating it up or cooling it down”.

According to Buckner, sewing the fiber into the fabric can create a supportive skeleton that users can switch on and off. This led to a load-bearing material that can hold up to a 50g (1.8oz) of weight.

The researchers also applied a conductive ink onto the fabric to create sensors that’ll detect environmental changes. That way, the material can act accordingly.

Finally, they added a shape-memory alloy (SMA) to enable the robotic fabric to change shape and move at will.

Scientists can program SMAs to remember a specific shape. So, when the material becomes deformed, users can trigger the memory to assume an original form.

According to the Yale team, the robotic fabric has several exciting applications.

We believe this technology can be leveraged to create self-deploying tents, robotic parachutes, and assistive clothing,” Kramer-Bottiglio concluded.

Read More: Microfiber Pollution: how our Clothes Harm Marine Life

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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