A team of researchers at the Linköping University in Sweden has combined traditional textile processes and electrochemistry to create a material that works as an artificial muscle in response to very small electrical signals.
The researchers call this material a textuator (a combination of textile and actuator). Like normal actuators, they convert electrical energy to force. This technology could create clothes that would help injured or disabled people get some assistance to move or even regain mobility.
Woven soft robots used to help wih mobility (c) Youtube
“Our dream is suits you can wear under your clothing—hidden exoskeletons to help the elderly, help those recovering from injury, maybe one day make disabled people walk again,” said Edwin Jagern in a statement
. Jagern is an associate professor of applied physics who led the research.
The experts created two types of actuators using different textile manufacturing processes. The woven one exerts more force, whereas the knitted version is more flexible. They can combine these two and tweak them to obtain a proper balance of stretch and force.
The team first fabricated cellulose yarn to create these artificial muscles, which are renewable and biocompatible, into the two different forms. The next step involved coating the fabrics with electroactive materials, using a process similar to the ones used in traditional textile fabrication.
Electroactive material of the technology is the one that would respond to the electrical stimuli (c) technobyte.org
The main electroactive material of the technology is the one that would respond to the electrical stimuli, called a conductive polymer called polypyrrole (PPy).
The researchers tested the effect of the electroactive coatings on the structure of the ‘artificial muscles’ using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and found that the structure maintained its physical form.
After various stress and strain tests, they were successful in lifting a LEGO lever arm weighing 2 grams. However, polypyrrole (Ppy) has its own limitations. It doesn’t react quickly to an electrical signal.
Ppy can take several seconds to expand or contract. Also, this experiment was carried out in a liquid electrolyte to activate the Ppy.
Though, there's no finished product yet, the team is currently working on making this technology work.