Powered exoskeletons and other assistive devices tend to be clunky, noisy, and consist of rigid parts that can be heavy and uncomfortable to wear. Scientists at Linköping University and University of Borås in Sweden have developed a new way of powering body-worn devices that doesn’t involve any motors, pulleys, or gears.
The technique relies on creating a fabric out of cellulose yarns and then coating it with electrically conductive polymers. Simply delivering a current to the material makes it flex and the more yarn is used the stronger it becomes. The shape and form of the weaving of the fabric also plays a role in how and in which direction the material bends, essentially serving as a mechanism for using it in unique ways. “If we weave the fabric, for example, we can design it to produce a high force. In this case, the extension of the fabric is the same as that of the individual threads. But what happens is that the force developed is much higher when the threads are connected in parallel in the weave. This is the same as in our muscles. Alternatively, we can use an extremely stretchable knitted structure in order to increase the effective extension,” in a statement said Nils-Krister Persson, associate professor in the Smart Textiles Initiative at the Swedish School of Textiles, University of Borås.
By integrating this material into soft and pliable devices, it may be possible to build orthoses that don’t look and feel like the patient is a cyborg. Instead they may end up looking like regular clothing that hides its real powers.
Study in Science Advances: Knitting and weaving artificial muscles…