Knitted, Conductive Artificial Muscle to Power Future Exoskeletons

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Exoskeletons that enhance human performance or aid disabled people to walk and carry out everyday tasks are becoming commercially available. Ideally, an exoskeleton would be designed as a suit, hidden under clothes and increasing mobility. Thus, there is a great need for novel, lightweight actuators that feel as soft and lifelike - and move as smoothly and silently - as their biological counterpart. Researchers from Sweden's Linköping University have created a textile actuator - a new kind of smart fabric that can control movement. The actuators were produced from cellulose yarns assembled into fabrics and coated with conducting polymers using a metal-free deposition. The team found that woven smart yarn was able to withstand great force, whereas a knitted pattern was able to stretch. They knitted the material into a sleeve and placed it on a small Lego lever 'arm,' which moved easily and smoothly and was able to lift two grams of weight. The textile actuators can be effectively mass fabricated, which will allow for a new means of driving and designing assistive devices, such as exoskeleton-like suits with integrated wearable actuators.