FibeRobo by MIT: A Breakthrough in Morphable Textiles

by Amir Hussein
3 comments
Shape-shifting fiber

An interdisciplinary team of scientists from MIT and Northeastern University has engineered a novel liquid crystal elastomer fiber that responds to thermal changes by altering its shape. This innovation, dubbed FibeRobo, is poised to transform the textile industry with its seamless integration into existing fabric production systems, offering the potential for garments that adjust their insulating properties in reaction to temperature fluctuations. The concept is showcased by the researchers through a prototype of a jacket that automatically becomes warmer as the surrounding temperature decreases.

FibeRobo is noteworthy for its affordability and compatibility with conventional textile production methods, suggesting its utility in a range of applications from high-performance athletic wear to medical compression clothing.

Imagine possessing a single adaptable garment that intelligently modulates its thermal insulation in response to seasonal weather variations. This is the promise of FibeRobo, an innovative material that constricts with rising temperatures and naturally resumes its original form when cooled, all without the need for embedded electronics.

Integration with Textile Manufacturing

Remarkably cost-effective, the fiber is designed for easy inclusion in textile production processes such as looms, embroidery, and knitting machinery, capable of being mass-produced in extensive lengths. This adaptability allows for the creation of textiles with embedded movement and sensory functions.

The fiber’s activity is driven by temperature changes and can be augmented by pairing it with conductive threads, enabling electrical activation. This electrical interaction allows for the fabric to morph according to digital cues, potentially interacting with digital devices like heart rate monitors.

The Science of Adaptive Fabrics

Jack Forman, a postgraduate researcher at MIT’s Tangible Media Group and a contributor at the Center for Bits and Atoms, is at the forefront of this study. Forman’s research, conducted with a team of eleven other experts from MIT and Northeastern University, delves into the utilization of textiles across various domains, highlighting the paradox of how textiles, despite their ubiquity, lack inherent adaptability. Their paper detailing the actuating fiber will be presented at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology.

The material central to their research, liquid crystal elastomer (LCE), exhibits unique properties, flowing as a liquid and then settling into a crystal structure. Under thermal influence, these structures rearrange, causing the fiber to contract and then revert without any bending. By fine-tuning the chemical composition, researchers can adjust the actuation properties, such as the degree of contraction and the responsive temperature range.

The team has demonstrated practical applications of FibeRobo, including an adaptive sports bra that tightens during physical activity.

Challenges in Fiber Fabrication

Creating LCE fibers involves a delicate process, and standard methods often fail, producing unusable material. Forman developed a specialized machine using 3D printing and laser-cutting technology to navigate these challenges. The intricate process of extruding and curing the LCE resin is followed by a treatment that prepares the fiber for integration into textile manufacturing, culminating in a functional kilometer-length fiber produced within a single day.

Moreover, the team has crafted a compression jacket for Forman’s dog, Professor, which can deliver comforting pressure remotely via a smartphone.

Looking Ahead

The researchers are striving to refine the fiber for recyclability or biodegradability and to simplify its production to be accessible even to those outside of laboratory settings.

As FibeRobo’s applications expand, Forman envisions it becoming a commonplace resource available for anyone’s creative textile projects.

Lining Yao, Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, expresses admiration for the ingenuity in textile designs possible through this innovation, although she is not directly associated with the study.

The research benefits from the support of various scholarships and collaborations, with contributions from team members across MIT and Northeastern University.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Shape-shifting fiber

What is FibeRobo and who developed it?

FibeRobo is a revolutionary shape-shifting fiber developed by researchers from MIT and Northeastern University. It is a liquid crystal elastomer fiber that changes shape in response to temperature changes.

How does FibeRobo fiber work?

The fiber, made from liquid crystal elastomer, contracts when heated and returns to its original state when cooled, without the need for sensors or rigid components.

What are the potential applications of FibeRobo?

FibeRobo can be used to create morphing textiles, such as adaptive performance wear and compression garments, that adjust properties like insulation in response to temperature changes.

Can FibeRobo be integrated with current textile manufacturing processes?

Yes, FibeRobo is designed to be fully compatible with existing textile manufacturing machinery, including weaving, embroidery, and knitting machines.

What is the significance of FibeRobo’s compatibility with industrial knitting machines?

This compatibility allows for the seamless integration of FibeRobo into the production of textiles, making it possible to mass-produce smart fabrics with morphing capabilities.

How does the incorporation of conductive thread enhance FibeRobo fibers?

By combining with conductive threads, FibeRobo fibers can be actuated electrically, allowing digital control over the fabric’s shape and properties.

What does the research team aim to achieve with FibeRobo in the future?

The team aims to further develop FibeRobo to be recyclable or biodegradable and to simplify the production process for broader accessibility and application.

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3 comments

Mike_r November 5, 2023 - 4:28 pm

is it just me or does this seem like sci-fi becoming reality… textile that changes shape, this is big

Reply
Jenna K November 5, 2023 - 4:41 pm

wow this FibeRobo stuff from MIT is game-changing, imagine clothes that adjust to the weather, so cool

Reply
SamT November 6, 2023 - 12:15 am

credit to the researchers for making something so complex seem almost simple, science rocks!

Reply

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