Fabien Sorin, head of EPFL’s Laboratory of Photonic Materials and Fibre Devices (FIMAP), and his team, developed super-elastic, multi-material and high-performance fibres, which can be applied in robotics, textiles and medical implants as they can detect even the slightest pressure and strain and can sustain up to 500% elastic deformation without losing their original shape.

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Inspired by Optical-Fibre Manufacturing

Thermal drawing, a process used for the manufacturing of rigid fibres like optical-fibres, was the starting point for Mr. Sorin and his team. Through a new selection of criteria they managed to apply this process to thermoplastic elastomers, which are soft and elastic materials that can be easily deformed.

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The process remains the same. By heating up the macroscopic preform the various materials get soft, facilitating this way the extraction of the elastic fibre. The result? Hundreds-of-meters of smart, tiny and super-elastic optical and electronic fibres, that can be used in healthcare, robotics and wearable devices.

Multiple Unprecedented Applications

In Collaboration with the Robotics and Biology Laboratory of the Technical University of Berlin, the fibres were integrated into the fingers of large scale robots as artificial nerves. Due to their ultra-sensitivity coming from the electrodes, the fibres can transmit information about the robot’s tactile interaction with its environment.

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According to Mr. Sorin, this is a new way to integrate a variety of materials within thin and stretchable fibres offering a wide application field, from bioengineering applications to stretchable electronics and photonics. To support this argument, the research team also tested adding their fibres to large-mesh clothing to detect compression and stretching, allowing for example the development of a touch keyboard directly integrated into textile.

For those wondering if this is the future of smart clothing, please note that the textile industry has already expressed its interest in this breakthrough technology!