Aussie researchers develop shape-shifting, robotic material

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SYDNEY, July 13 (Xinhua) -- A team of engineers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Medical Robotics Lab have developed a new class of smart textiles that are able to morph into a variety of shapes, bearing major implications for medical technology.

The findings, published in the Scientific Reports and Soft Robotics journals and released on Wednesday, showed the technology which uses tiny soft artificial "muscles" that are woven into fabric.

"In effect, we have given our smart textiles the expansion and contraction ability in the exact same way as human muscle fibers," said Scientia Senior Lecturer at UNSW and research lead, Dr. Thanh Nho Do.

Previous research from the United States has devised shape-shifting material that could be manipulated into any possible shape. However, this marks the first time such material has been coupled with robotics and is able to move by itself.

Dr. Do said the device could be used in wearable compression garments, assist people with movement, or even aid the recovery of people trapped in confined spaces.

"Patients with poor blood circulation could benefit from smart garments that contract to apply the desired pressure to superficial veins and assist blood supply."

The smart material offers an alternative to existing movement-assisting technologies, such as rigid robot suits. The team hoped that one day the fabric could be worn as normal clothing.

"We envision our material could be used to develop soft exoskeletons to enable people with disabilities to walk again or augment the human performance."

UNSW Professor Nigel Lovell said the material also has the potential to be used to create "soft robots" which could function in small confined spaces.

"Soft robots utilizing our smart textile can shape shift and be implemented as a lifting mechanism, such as when rescuing people from collapsed buildings or other hazardous environments, or as a soft tubular gripper, in our experiments we could lift objects around 346 times the material's own weight."

Dr. Do and his team have received funding from the National Heart Foundation of Australia, as they look to use the technology to assist in helping failing hearts pump blood around the body. Enditem

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