Research: Robotic exoskeletons can be woven from 'smart' fibres  News

Research: Robotic exoskeletons can be woven from ‘smart’ fibres News

Humans began protecting their bodies with softer materials long before body armor was invented – textiles are one of the oldest materials known to mankind. When did this art form appear?

Weaving looms have existed since the Stone Age and today’s looms are not much different from their predecessors. Exterior textile technology has been perfected over the centuries, so why not now use these materials and production techniques in science — merging robots and textiles — to create clothing-like exoskeletons?

Kaija Põhako-Esko. source: “Uudishimu tippkeskus” by ERR

What exoskeletons are mainly used for today?

There are many different types of exoskeletons with different functions. One of the most common applications is in medicine as a mobility aid for people with limited mobility. There is a similar application in sports to enhance a person’s physical ability. There are also industrial applications, such as preventing injuries and stress from forced situations.

When did it first occur to you that these old things could be useful in solving future problems?

I have been fascinated by textiles since I was a child, and my hobby is also textile making. So, when I first started studying materials science, I envisioned a career in textiles. Years passed, and I finally found my way, precisely by merging chemistry, robotics, and textile technologies to develop technologies for a clothing-like exoskeleton.

There are a lot of new ingredients as we move from the corrugated belts of traditional costumes into this lab to develop and create exoskeletons.

Yes, here we have a textile material on which various polymer-based functional layers are applied. They contain, among other natural biopolymers, gelatin and chitosan, which are derived from insect chitin. There is also carbon and ionic liquids which are liquid at room temperature… What comes to mind when you think of robots?

Flashing lights, wires, metal…

Yes, something completely different from us. However, in soft robotics, we want to connect the devices to soft tissues such as skin, internal organs, or other tissues in our bodies, as well as to other organisms or objects [by soft linkage.]

Continue… Does this mean that the two will seamlessly blend into each other?

They can go smoothly, but what we really want is for the tissue and the device to work together. The goal is for the robotic device to be soft and compatible with living tissue, move similarly to tissue and possess tissue-like properties.

So this is an example of bioinspiration?

For example, a “robot” plant, or a plant that behaves like a robot, is wild oat grass.
In the fall, the seeds of wild oats ripen and fall off, becoming soggy and moving along the ground in search of a hiding place in the soil.

Does it come to life as soon as you start rolling on the floor?

You can say that, despite the fact that they are still dead: there are no living cells. He is already dehydrated, yet he must carry out a predetermined substance program regardless of whether he is alive or not.

How does this charming seedling’s dance help us develop human exoskeletons?

Many motion mechanics can be learned from nature and applied to robots.
These soft robotic devices, for example, are inspired by different insect locomotion mechanisms. For example, this is based on an inchworm crawling on the floor. When tension is applied, it will bend to one side and then to the other.

Movement studies inspired by nature. source: Kaija Põhako-Esko

Is gold leaf on your table over there because it is a good conductor of electricity?

Yes, carbon is the electrode in this robot [that you are looking at]and gold is the conductor that helps propel the charge.

In the future, if a person has difficulty with hand movement, for example, could an app developed using this technology help them drink or write independently?

Yes, that’s exactly what we’re headed for. Right now, we have this material applied to traditional textiles, but the idea is to turn this material into [a soft-robotic] fiber and weave various textiles from it. So, back to folk clothing and the fabric making process. All warp and weft threads serve a purpose, and in our smart textiles, every functional thread may serve a purpose. By combining these fibers in different ways we can create different mechanisms of movement in the fabric.

What can you weave on our prehistoric looms now that you have finally developed the fibers for this advanced fabric?

We can create garment-like exoskeletons, that is, by first sewing them out of soft machine fabric.

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