Arthritis

27 January 2017

'Textile muscles' in clothing may help disabled move

Normal fabric coated with an electroactive material could be used in clothing to help people with mobility problems get around.

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Scientists say they've created a special fabric incorporating robotic techniques that one day might help provide muscle power to disabled people or seniors who have trouble getting around.

Enormous advances

The Swedish team coated normal fabric with an electroactive material, enabling the fabric to respond to low voltage power. Electroactive means the material responds to electricity.

This technology could lead to the creation of "textile muscles" that could be used in clothing to help people with mobility problems. The researchers used this approach in a simple robotic device to lift a small weight, according to the study.

Read: Exercise is key to health in old age

"Enormous and impressive advances have been made in the development of exoskeletons, which now enable people with disabilities to walk again. But the existing technology looks like rigid robotic suits," said study researcher Edwin Jager, an associate professor at Linkoping University in Sweden.

"It is our dream to create exoskeletons that are similar to items of clothing, such as 'running tights' that you can wear under your normal clothes. Such devices could make it easier for older persons and those with impaired mobility to walk," Jager said in a university news release.

Read: Effects of prolonged bed rest

Low-voltage electricity applied to the special fabric caused the electroactive material to react in a way that changes the yarn or fibres of fabric to increase in length.

Another study researcher, Nils-Krister Persson, is an associate professor at the University of Boras' Swedish School of Textiles. He explained, "If we weave the fabric, for example, we can design it to produce a high force. In this case, the extension of the fabric is the same as that of the individual threads. But what happens is that the force developed is much higher when the threads are connected in parallel in the weave. This is the same as in our muscles."

The study was published in the journal Science Advances.

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Arthritis expert

Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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