Remember the futuristic automatic-drying jacket in Back to the Future 2? Purdue researchers are developing a robotic fabric that could become a big material for wearable technology and soft robot creators, which means you may be able to rock smart outerwear like Marty McFly someday.
The material is embedded with flexible sensors, but it's largely cotton, so it wouldn't be anywhere near as cumbersome to wear as a hard robotic suit. Researchers think it could be a good fabric for pilots and astronauts to fight the blood-draining effects of acceleration, since they could set up the sensors to provide compression.
They're also wrapping the fabric around balloon and foam blocks and experimenting with using it as a soft robotic material; the fabric can move like an inchworm on its own (which sounds like a sensation you wouldn't want your shirt or spacesuit to make on your skin, but OK).
Ideally, they want to develop a type of robot that is just a stretchable skin, with all of its sensors and framework embedded in an elastic fabric. And while this project comes off as an early exploration into a big field, if we all end up with hyper-smart robot outfits years from now, we'll know who to applaud for getting things started.
Or we'll all be in stupid regular clothes cursing botched science when this doesn't happen:
Image credit: Purdue