New programmable smart fabric responds to temperature and electricity


April 24, 2023

(Nanowerk News) The new smart material developed by researchers at the University of Waterloo is activated by heat and electricity, making it the first to respond to two different stimuli.

The research has been published in Small (“Multi-Stimuli Multiple Response Intelligent Woven Structures with Local Programming Capability for Biomimetic Applications”). An electric current is applied to an engineered smart fabric consisting of plastic and steel fibres An electric current is applied to an engineered smart fabric consisting of plastic and steel fibres. (Image: University of Waterloo)

Its unique design opens the way for a wide range of potential applications, including clothing that keeps you warm when you walk from car to office in winter and vehicle bumpers that spring back to their original shape after an impact.

Inexpensive made with polymer nano-composite fibers from recycled plastic, the programmable fabric can change color and shape when stimuli are applied.

“As a wear-only material, it has nearly limitless potential in AI, robotics and virtual reality games and experiences,” said Dr. Milad Kamkar, a chemical engineering professor at Waterloo. “Imagine feeling warmth or a physical trigger lead to a more immersive adventure in cyberspace.”

The new fabric design is the product of the happy fusion of soft and hard materials, featuring a combination of highly engineered polymer composites and stainless steel in a woven structure.

Researchers created tools similar to traditional looms to weave smart fabrics. The resulting process is highly versatile, allowing design freedom and macro-scale control of fabric properties.

The fabric can also be activated by a lower mains voltage than previous systems, making it more energy efficient and cost effective. Additionally, the lower voltage allows integration into smaller, more portable devices, making them suitable for use in biomedical devices and environmental sensors.

“The idea of ​​this smart material was first bred and born from the science of biomimicry,” says Kamkar, director of the Center for Multi-scale Material Design (MMD) in Waterloo.

“Through the ability to sense and react to environmental stimuli such as temperature, this is evidence that our new material can interact with the environment to monitor ecosystems without destroying them.”

The next step for the researchers is to improve the shape memory performance of fabrics for applications in robotics. The goal is to build a robot that can effectively carry and transfer loads to complete tasks.


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