Active knits fabric.

MN Impact: Researchers invent shape-changing textiles powered only by body heat

June 8, 2020

Issue

Recent advances in wearable technology offer significant potential to solve problems associated with healthcare access for rural and aging communities. 

What has been done

Researchers at the University’s Design of Active Materials and Structures Lab and Wearable Technology Lab recently developed a temperature-responsive textile. The new textiles resemble typical knits, except they are created with a special category of active materials—known as shape memory alloys (SMAs)—which change shape when heated.

Results

The next steps will be to integrate the textiles into full-sized garments, which could solve a variety of problems where fit and conformance to the body are important.   

 One area where this new technology will apply is the design of medical-grade compression socks. Individuals who use these socks need them to be tight enough to aid with blood flow, but easy to get on and off. With this new textile, patients could pull on a loose sock that would then tighten on its own. 

This work has the potential to redefine how compression garments are designed and used, which could radically improve the lives of the millions of people who rely on them to manage age-related health conditions—including in rural areas where rehabilitation treatment and face-to-face healthcare options are more limited.