Future robots will dress up to the nines...

Sensor threads composed of eGaIn-filled hyperelastic silicone tubing, attached to fabric via couching and wrapped around a foam block. Credits: Michelle Yuen et al.

Well, probably the idea of creating cloths for robots by researchers at the University of Purdue is not for having elegantly dressed robots but still it strikes me as a novelty.

Researchers have developed a soft fabric that can be used by a tailor to create dresses, but in this case robots are the target. The fabric teems with embedded sensors, can stretch like a normal fabric but in addition can also "sense" the stretching and send data to the robot controller (brain?) for contextual awareness.

The sensors are made by flexible polymer and threadlike strands of a "shape-memory" alloy (that is an alloy that can remember the original shape and come back to it once the stretching forces goes away). The fabric includes also actuators and actually the shape memory allow threads can be forced to assume specific forms by heating them. These actuators can also be used to force the robot motion, for small -low energy- movements thus getting read on the need of motors. Clearly you cannot lift weights, for that motors are needed.

Although the research has been focussing on robots, on a NASA funding, with the goal of creating soft robots that can be used in space exploration, the researchers feel that the fabric created could also be used in medical braces to provide supporting cloths leveraging on the variable stiffness of the fabric. When heated the fabric becomes softer and can be shaped to fit specific forms.

In a way, I see this area of research in synch with the area of smart materials, something that is evolving rapidly and that will result in a new way of designing objects and that really connects to the IoT (Internet of Things) space.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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