The team - led by Professor Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, the John J. Lee Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science - have developed the special fabric, which could be used for the likes of assistive clothing, self-deploying tents and even robotic parachutes.
Trevor Buckner, a graduate student in Kramer-Bottiglio’s lab and lead author on the paper, said: "Our Field’s metal-epoxy composite can become as flexible as latex rubber or as stiff as hard acrylic, over 1,000 times more rigid, just by heating it up or cooling it down.
"Long fibres of this material can be sewn onto a fabric to give it a supportive skeleton that we can turn on and off ... Instead of using the coil technique, we flattened the wires out into ribbons to give them a geometry much more suited to smooth bending motion, which is perfect for robotic fabrics."
The fabric allows itself to be manipulated and then is able to hold the shape it needs.
Whilst Professor Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio added: "The conductive composite self-coagulates around the individual fibres and does not notably change the porosity of the fabric.
"The sensors are visible, but don’t change the texture or breathability of the fabric, which is important for comfort ... We believe this technology can be leveraged to create self-deploying tents, robotic parachutes, and assistive clothing. Fabrics are a ubiquitous material used in a wide range of products, and the ability to ‘roboticise’ some of these products opens up many possibilities."