Knitted, Conductive Artificial Muscle to Power Future Exoskeletons
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.