Scientists have long been working on materials that change their properties in response to certain stimuli. In the future, these smart shape-changing materials could be useful in robotics, military, electronics, medical care, fabric, or aircraft.
Now, scientists have created a smart fabric that can swiftly switch from soft and foldable to rigid and load-bearing. This development could pave the way for next-generation smart fabrics that can harden to protect a user against an impact like in a bulletproof vest. This smart fabric could also be used for exoskeletons when additional load carrying capacity is needed.
Scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech), came together to create this wearable structured fabric.
Inspired by ancient chain mail Armor
Researchers worked on structured but hollow particles that could be interlocked to form a fabric and could be further altered on command. They created the lightweight fabric from 3D-printed nylon plastic hollow octahedrons (eight-sided triangular shapes) that interlock with each other. So by jamming these triangular shapes together using a plastic vacuum casing, it was found that it could hold 50 times its own weight.
The team is now working on finding new ways to further improve the performance of the material.