Robotic clothes? Check out these smart textiles made in Australia


UNSW engineers have developed a textile that can robotically transform from a 2D material into a 3D structure.

The technology involves soft, artificial “muscles,” made up of long, fluid-filled silicon tubes manipulated by hydraulics. The artificial muscles are surrounded by a “helical coil of traditional fibers”, with the ability to be programmed, changing the way they might contract, expand or transform into a variety of shapes.

The textile was developed by the UNSW Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering and the Tyree Foundation Institute of Health Engineering.

“These ‘smart fluid textiles’ take advantage of hydraulic pressure and add the quick response, lightness, high flexibility and small size of soft artificial muscles. In effect, we have given our smart textiles the ability to expand and contract in exactly the same way as human muscle fibres,” said Dr. Thanh Nho Do, Senior Lecturer at Scientia. Do led the research.

“This material has significant advantages because it is made from miniature soft artificial muscles that provide a thin, flexible and highly conformable structure.”

The thumbnail in the video below makes the technology look like Scoobies, which you may remember from grade school, but I assure you that the technology is far more advanced than playground fashion.

The research team says the technology could be deployed in a variety of areas.

“We envision that our material could be used to develop flexible exoskeletons to enable people with disabilities to walk again or augment human performance. Most of the existing technology in this area is still based on rigid robotic suits, but we hope to be able to create a light and soft exoskeleton that looks and feels like leggings that can be worn like normal clothes,” added Do.

“We propose that it can be used to develop new medical compression devices, for example, that are unobtrusive and lead to better medical outcomes. Patients with poor blood circulation could benefit from smart garments that contract to apply desired pressure to superficial veins and promote blood supply. Athletes also use compression garments to recover faster and reduce muscle soreness after training, and our smart textile has the potential to be used in this area.

A diagram of technology. Image: UNSW

Another use this technology could have is in soft robotics, solving problems that traditional, more robust robots cannot. The ability to transform an entire soft robot while maintaining its tensile strength is something that could come in very handy in a hazardous environment.

“Traditional robots are effective when working in structured environments, but they are quite rigid and have problems when faced with unfamiliar contexts of changing environments,” added Phuoc Thien Phan from the UNSW Medical Robotics Laboratory.

“Normal robots can’t change shape or start out as a two-dimensional flat material to be able to access small spaces and then transform into a three-dimensional object.”

Additionally, Do received funding from the National Heart Foundation of Australia to investigate whether the technology could help failing hearts pump blood throughout the body.

You can read more about the study in Scientific Reports and Soft Robotics.


Comments are closed.