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Robotic Fabric Could Bring 'active Clothing,' Wearable Robots

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robotic fabric

Purdue's robotic fabric can bend or compress, producing slithering or inchwork-like locomotion.

Credit: Rebecca Kramer / Purdue University

Purdue University researchers are developing a robotic fabric that moves and contracts and is embedded with sensors. The researchers say the fabric could be used to create active clothing and a new class of soft robots.

The robotic fabric is a cotton material containing sensors made of a flexible polymer and threadlike strands of shape-memory alloy that return to a coiled shape when heat is applied, causing the fabric to move. "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," says Purdue professor Rebecca Kramer. "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."

The researchers plan to make a class of soft robots in which all the functional elements are incorporated an elastic skin. The skin would include flexible electronics that are less sensitive to vibration than conventional hardware.

"Anything can be a robot because all of the robotic technology is in the fabric or skin," Kramer says. The skin might be wrapped around a deformable object, which would be key to creating machines that can navigate alien terrains, she says.

From Purdue University
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