Sewing wire in a zigzag, embedding it in stretchable material and then dissolving the thread with warm water is a way to advance many practical, helpful applications.
By Judith Pfeffer - Filed Jun 16, 2014
An ordinary sewing machine could help make soft robotics capable of stretching up to 500 percent, which could lead to innovations on robots with humanlike sensory skin and synthetic muscle.
So say scientists at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., in a recently released paper detailing the findings of a study underwritten by the National Science Foundation.
To create ultra-stretchable interconnects, conventional wire is sewn in a zigzag pattern and embedded in a rubbery, stretchable "elastomer" called Ecoflex from Smooth-On Inc. of Easton, Pa.
The researchers sew the wire into a sheet of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) - the same material used to make transparencies for overheard projectors. The zigzag wire pattern is stitched to the PET sheets with a water-soluble thread. Then the rubbery stretchable polymer is poured over the sheet, encasing the wire as it solidified. Warm water is used to dissolve the thread, and the flexible polymer is separated from the PET sheet with the wire embedded in it.
The work is being spearheaded by Babak Ziaie professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.
Soft robotics is a relatively new and growing field with myriad potential applications in the environmental and medical fields, according to this brief video from the National Science Foundation and featuring researchers from Tufts University.