Innovative Robotic Fabric Transforms Garments Into Automatons

Rebecca Kramer is an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University and her current claim to fame is the development of robotic fabrics via a digital fabrication lab known poetically as a "faboratory." This phenomenal textile, which serves as a sort of electronic skin, can bend, contract and twist, lending itself to an amazing range of potential applications in sports, spacesuits and military operations to say the very least.  


Robotic Fabric: Source:Ecouterrre.comRobotic Fabric:


Potential applications for robotic fabrics

Creating clothes that can move on their own may seem like a tale of science fiction, but in reality this concept  can open many new utilitarian doors. People with disabilities can know improved function from this material, which can support, strengthen and offer significant mobility. This textile can be used in the creation of medical braces that lock in place for support. NASA's interest in this technology lies in its potential to improve  spacesuits that can help astronauts to offset the effects of acceleration and create lightweight robots to explore alien terrain during space missions. Soldiers could utilize robotic fabric to enhance endurance while transporting heavy loads over long distances.


Robotic Clothing: Source: TechLiveInfo.comRobotic Clothing: Source:


How does robotic fabric work?

This cotton textile is woven with sensors made from a shape-memory polymer that is very flexible and allows the fabric to move and become soft when heated. In the words of creator, Rebecca Kramer:

"We have integrated both actuation and sensing, whereas most robotic fabrics currently in development feature only sensing or other electronic components that utilize conductive thread. We also use standard sewing  techniques to introduce the thread-like actuators and sensors into the fabric, so they could conceivably be integrated into the existing textile manufacturing infrastructure...We will be able to design robots on the fly. Anything can be a robot because all of the robotic technology is in the fabric or skin."

When the polymer alloy is heated, it contracts and returns to a coiled shape. This fusion between sensors and alloy allows the robotic fabric  to bend, twist or contract, thus creating motion. This breakthrough could well represent a new technological approach to textile manufacturing introducing "active clothing" and a new category of "soft" robots.


Robotic Textile-Diverse Views: Purdue.eduRobotic Textile-Diverse Views:


The future of robotic fabric

Despite their ubiquitous presence and uses, fabrics are still part of a new and unexplored frontier when it comes to their partnership with technological advances and embedded function. Wearable soft robots with flexible electonic elements implanted into a stretchable skin could potentially be less sensitive to vibration and rugged enough for both space exploration and the transportation of lightweight sheets of robotic skinn slated for assembly once travelers have reached the alien destination.

This potential  energy-efficent technology for robotics  is new and exciting. According to Rebecca Kramer: "Ordinarily, if we are moving a hinge joint and want to maintain a particular position, we would have to maintain a high energy input to keep the joint from relaxing. Here, we could just lock it into place."

The possibilities for robotic fabrics are as endless as the realms of human imagination. Who knows how many boons to humanity and life as we know it await us in the textiles of the future?

Closing thoughts on robotics:

At bottom, robotics is about us. It is the discipline of emulating our lives, of wondering how we work. ~ Rod Grupen

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