Soft robotics is a rapidly growing field with applications ranging from prosthetics to space exploration. Now a research team out of Yale University has taken the technology one step further with the invention of smart, robotic fabric that can change its shape and stiffness on the fly.
The key to the material’s capabilities lies within the fibers themselves. The team, led by Dr. Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, spun epoxy into fibers that can vary their stiffness thanks to the particles of Field’s metal embedded within them. Field’s metal is novel in that it liquefies at very low temperatures. As such when the metal is cool, it remains solid and the fabric is stiff. Applying a low current to the fiber heats the metal slightly causing it to become soft and malleable along with the rest of the fabric.