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Double-smart combination of polymers and woven steel

Inexpensively made, the programmable fabric can change its colour and shape when stimuli are applied.

27th April 2023

Innovation in Textiles
 |  Ontario, Canada

Protective, Clothing/​Footwear

A new smart fabric can be activated by both heat and electricity, making it the first ever to respond to two different stimuli.

Developed by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, its unique design paves the way for a wide variety of potential applications, ranging from clothing that warms up on a walk from the car to the office in winter, to vehicle bumpers that return to their original shape after a collision.

“As a wearable material alone, it has almost infinite potential in AI, robotics and virtual reality games and experiences,” said Dr Milad Kamkar, a chemical engineering professor and director of the Multi-scale Materials Design (MMD) Centre at Waterloo. “Imagine feeling warmth or a physical trigger eliciting a more in-depth adventure in the virtual world.”

The fabric design is a product of the union of soft and hard materials, featuring a combination of highly engineered polymer composites and stainless steel in a woven structure and the researchers created a device similar to a traditional loom to weave it. The process is said to be extremely versatile, enabling design freedom and macro-scale control of the fabric’s properties.

The fabric can also be activated by a lower voltage of electricity than previous systems, making it more energy efficient and cost effective. In addition, lower voltage allows integration into smaller, more portable devices, making it suitable for use in biomedical devices and environment sensors.

“The idea of these intelligent materials was first bred and born from biomimicry science,” said Kamkar. “Through the ability to sense and react to environmental stimuli such as temperature, this is proof of concept that our new material can interact with the environment to monitor ecosystems without damaging them.”

The next step for the researchers is to improve the fabric’s shape-memory performance for applications in the field of robotics. The aim is to construct a robot that can effectively carry and transfer weight to complete tasks.

A paper on the research, Multi-Stimuli Dually-Responsive Intelligent Woven Structures with Local Programmability for Biomimetic Applications, has been published in the journal Nano-Micro Small.

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