March 2, 2024

MIT’s Revolutionary Shape-Shifting Fiber, FibeRobo, for Morphing Fabrics

Researchers at MIT have developed a programmable, actuating fiber called FibeRobo that can transform the shape of fabrics. The fiber contracts when exposed to higher temperatures and then self-reverses when the temperature decreases, without the need for embedded sensors or additional hard components. The low-cost FibeRobo is compatible with existing textile manufacturing techniques, including weaving looms, embroidery, and industrial knitting machines, making it easy to incorporate into various fabrics for different applications.

Combining fibers with conductive thread allows for actuation using electricity, which grants users digital control over the fabric’s form. This means that materials can change shape based on digital information, such as heart rate sensor readings. The researchers believe that FibeRobo can be used in adaptive performance wear and compression garments, eliminating the need for multiple coats for different seasons.

The fiber is made from a material called liquid crystal elastomer (LCE), which is a series of molecules that can flow like a liquid but stack into a crystal arrangement when settled. These crystal structures are incorporated into an elastomer network, giving the fiber its stretchy properties. When the LCE material heats up, the crystal molecules fall out of alignment, causing the fiber to contract. When the heat is removed, the molecules return to their original alignment, and the fiber goes back to its original length.

The fabrication of the LCE fiber posed challenges for the researchers, as existing techniques often led to a fused mass that was difficult to use. However, they overcame this obstacle by developing a machine that extrudes the fiber using a 3D-printed and laser-cut parts. The thick and viscous LCE resin is heated, then squeezed through a nozzle, and cured using UV lights. The fiber is then dipped in oil for a slippery coating and cured again with bright UV lights to create a strong and smooth fiber.

The resulting FibeRobo fiber can contract up to 40% without bending and actuate at skin-safe temperatures. It can be produced with a low-cost setup for about 20 cents per meter. The fiber can be incorporated into different textile manufacturing machines, including industrial knitting and nonindustrial processes like hand looms or manual crocheting.

The researchers have demonstrated various applications for FibeRobo, including an adaptive sports bra and a compression jacket for a pet dog. They plan to adjust the fiber’s chemical components to make it recyclable or biodegradable and streamline the polymer synthesis process for easier production by users without wet lab expertise.

Jack Forman, a graduate student at MIT, hopes that FibeRobo will eventually become readily available to the public like a ball of yarn, allowing anyone to produce morphing fabrics. The researchers’ work has received praise for its creative textile designs and the potential for further exploration by other research groups.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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