New 3D-printed material could transform prosthetics
Scientists out of Tel Aviv University believe the material offers endless possibilities to help people live better lives.
For people with prosthetic limbs, the pressure the device places on parts of their body can cause them pain. But thanks to a team of researchers from Israel and the Netherlands, a new 3D-printed material can combat this complication by being programmed to form to the specific needs of an individual. It could also revolutionize soft robotics and wearable technologies.
The team of researchers behind the technology – a synthetic composite with structures and properties not usually found in natural materials – recently published an article in the science journal Nature that shows how it works.
The researchers from Tel Aviv University and Leiden University built a cube of 10x10x10 centimeter blocks on which a smiley face appears when the cube is compressed. This demonstrated that any given pattern can be produced on a cube's surface.
"We started with a series of flexible building blocks, or bricks, that had deformation properties that varied with their position," said Dr. Yair Shokef, a professor at the Israeli school.
"The blocks were able to change their shape when we applied pressure," he added. "From there, we were able to develop a new design principle to enable these bricks to be oriented and assembled into a larger meta-material with machine-like functionalities."
Perhaps the 3D printed material's most significant property is that when compressed in one direction, the deformations (dents and protrusions) in other directions can be predicted, allowing its behavior to be "programmed" by carefully designing its spatial structure.
"This type of programmable 'machine material' could be ideal for prostheses or wearable technology in which a close fit with the body is important," Shokef said. "If we can make the building blocks even more complex or produce these from other materials, the possibilities really are endless."
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