Robotic textiles for breathing recovery


MIT researchers, along with collaborators from Uppsala University and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, developed a “robotic textile” consisting of a series of workable fibers. Fiber actuators are powered by compressed air and can perform a variety of movements. Pieces made with these fibers can detect how they are stretched and compressed and can provide tactile feedback at the same time. Although these tissues have a multitude of uses, researchers initially propose that the technology could help patients regain breathing patterns after surgery or respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19.

The system consists of thin, flexible fibers with a fluid core that can contain air or a liquid that can be compressed or released to drive the fibers, making them act as artificial muscle fibers. The flexibility and low profile of the fibers allows them to be sewn or woven into fabrics, and their thin structures contain sensors that can detect how much the fibers are stretched during movement.

The fibers consist of five layers: a fluid channel, a surrounding layer of silicone, an extensible sensor to control stretching during use, a braided polymer mesh, and a non-elastic filament to prevent overextension.

When incorporated into garments, fibers have numerous applications, not all medical. For example, researchers suggest that they could help singers perfect their breathing technique. An experienced singer could use the device to create a “footprint” of the correct breathing technique, and then a novice could wear the piece and this would require them to activate specific muscles while singing.

The fibers can respond very quickly and provide quick tactile feedback during use. However, perfecting control of the respiratory muscles would also be helpful for those who suffer from breathing difficulties due to surgery or the consequences of a respiratory disease such as COVID-19. In fact, the pieces could be useful for a wide variety of muscle training applications for rehabilitation.

In the next steps, researchers want to miniaturize the system that supplies compressed air and electrical components of the system, while increasing the potential length of the fibers manufactured. “Everyone has to breathe. Breathing has a significant impact on productivity, confidence and performance,” said Hiroshi Ishii, a researcher involved in the study, through an MIT ad. “Breathing is important for singing, but that can also help when recovering from surgery or depression. For example, breathing is so important for meditation.”

Watch a video on technology:

Study a Online conference on software and technology of the user interface of the Association for Computer Machinery: OmniFiber: integrated fluid fiber actuators for weaving movement-based interactions in the “fabric of everyday life”


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