Researchers at Rice University have developed a textile control system, free of any electronics, for pneumatic wearable technology that is designed to be helpful for people with limited mobility. Medgadget recently covered the pneumatic ‘gripper’ developed by Rice researchers. Now, they have created a textile control system for such wearables, that consists of tubes through which compressed air can pass and a series of logic gates, similar to those used in computer systems, that can control the passage and pressure of the compressed air. The system would allow someone to direct the energy in the system, in the form of pressurized air, to different components in the wearable system. As an example, the researchers have developed a device that would allow someone to raise the hood of a jacket at the touch of a button.
Wearables have great potential for people with mobility issues and disabilities. However, typically such systems require an integrated computer system and a consistent snag with this approach is the need for a power supply. Such devices must either be tethered to a power cable or require an on-board battery. In the case of a wearable designed to assist someone in lifting something heavy, the required on-board battery may have to be large and bulky to cope with the energy demands of the tasks the wearable performs.
In any case, this technology dispenses with the electronics, but is inspired by the logic gates used to control digital circuits. Logic gates are junctions in circuits that take multiple inputs and then produce a single output signal. In this case, the textile logic gates are receiving an input of compressed air, and then converting that signal to an output, which could mean accepting air at a high pressure and releasing it at a lower pressure, for example.
The concept here is to allow these textile logic gates to control a series of actuators that can perform useful tasks, such as raising the hood on a jacket or activating a gripper to lift objects. “The idea of using fluids to construct digital logic circuits is not new,” said Daniel Preston, a researcher involved in the study. “And in fact, in the last decade, people have been moving towards implementing fluidic logic in soft materials, things like elastomers. But so far, no one had taken the step to implement it in sheet-based materials, a feat which required redesigning the entire approach from first principles.”
So far, the researchers have tested the system in a jacket that can raise the hood at the touch of a button and they have also tested the resilience of the textile devices, subjecting them to thousands of rounds of activity and even riding over them with a pick-up truck to demonstrate how hard-wearing they are.
See a video about the technology below.
Study in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Logic-enabled textiles
Flashback: Pneumatic Assistive Device for People with Disabilities