Soft robotics and shape memory alloys

Specialty Fabrics Review, August 1, 2019

What makes a material robotic? According to Brad Holschuh, assistant professor of wearable technology and apparel design in the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, the simplest explanation is that it’s a synthetic product with mechanical actuation that can move or complete actions independent of, or in partnership with, humans. 

“Soft roboticists say the true defining feature is mechanical capability—the ability to create movement, force, displacement, torque, pressure, stroke—all the hallmarks of a typical mechanical system, but using materials that are nonrigid,” he says.

At Industrial Fabrics Association International’s 2019 Smart Fabrics Virtual Summit, Holschuh, a MnDRIVE researcher, gave a presentation titled “Soft-Robotic Textiles Using Integrated Active Materials.” He noted the many materials and their capabilities that can be useful in soft robotic applications, particularly in shape memory functions.

Holschuh says that because shape memory alloys (SMAs) can be useful in a variety of applications and markets. 

One application is in compression garments, which are widely used and have been around for quite a while. “But I’ve never met a single person that says they enjoy wearing a compression garment that’s on the market,” Holschuh says. ...

A person wearing a compression vest designed at the University of Minnesota.
Credit: UMN Wearable Technology Lab.