It turns out your aunt’s knitting needles may serve another purpose other than creating hats and scarves. Researchers are looking at ways to use this ancient technology to create artificial muscles.
A group of chemists, engineers and textile specialists in Sweden joined forces to knit and weave together new materials that have the potential to be used as wearable, soft artificial muscles by people with mobility issues and amputations.
Today’s prosthetics, such as artificial hands and legs, have become more user-friendly in the past decade, but the joints still tend to be bulky, heavy, stiff and noisy. The Swedish researchers have combined one of humanity’s first technologies — weaving and knitting – with advanced materials called electroactive polymers to create what they call textile actuators, or “textuators.”
The knitting and weaving processes can be used to assemble electric fibers into pliable bundles — much like muscle fibers. The scientists wove together cellulose material into various forms, and then coated the forms with an electroactive material. By doing this, they were able to demonstrate that such a textile could be used in a robotic device such as a lever arm.
While this process is still a far cry from being used to help human health, the researchers said it could one day be used to create tights that can assist people with walking, or to create knitted compression socks and sleeves that reduce edema, a swelling of the legs, feet or hands caused by an accumulation of excess fluid in the tissues.
Who knows? One day, you may be able to shake the hand of an amputee who can grasp your hand firmly thanks to this textile technology.