EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) scientists have found a fast and simple way to make super-elastic, multi-material, high-performance fiber, which has already been used as sensors on robotic fingers and in clothing. This method opens the door to new kinds of smart textiles and medical implants, according to the team of scientists.
Figure: An elastic fiber set to revolutionize smart clothes.
The fibers were developed at EPFL’s Laboratory of Photonic Materials and Fiber Devices (FIMAP), headed by Fabien Sorin at the School of Engineering. The scientists came up with a fast and easy method for embedding different kinds of microstructures in super-elastic fibers. For instance, by adding electrodes at strategic locations, they turned the fibers into ultra-sensitive sensors. What’s more, their method can be used to produce hundreds of meters of fiber in a short amount of time.
Scientists have said that it is a whole new way of thinking about sensors and the tiny fibers developed at EPFL are made of elastomer and can incorporate materials like electrodes and nanocomposite polymers.
“The fibers can detect even the slightest pressure and strain and can withstand deformation of close to 500% before recovering their initial shape. All that makes them perfect for applications in smart clothing and prostheses, and for creating artificial nerves for robots,” they added.
Working in association with Professor Dr. Oliver Brock (Robotics and Biology Laboratory, Technical University of Berlin), the scientists integrated their fibers into robotic fingers as artificial nerves. Whenever the fingers touch something, electrodes in the fibers transmit information about the robot’s tactile interaction with its environment. The research team also tested adding their fibers to large-mesh clothing to detect compression and stretching.
“Our technology could be used to develop a touch keyboard that’s integrated directly into clothing, for instance,” said Fabien Sorin.
The researchers said, “They see many other potential applications. Especially since the thermal drawing process can be easily tweaked for large-scale production. This is a real plus for the manufacturing sector. The textiles sector has already expressed interest in the new technology, and patents have been filed.”