Researchers from Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a composite material made from silicone and copper alloy that can morph from being highly flexible to rigid as its temperature varies.
The team says the tube’s flexibility could be useful in endoscopic procedures, where anatomy presents a challenge for rigid devices to maneuver within the body. And when it comes time for the instrument to take a biopsy, the tube can become rigid.
The silicone tube has a metal alloy interior with a copper metal wire coiled around it. When researchers deliver an electric current through the conductive wire, the metal interior heats up and turns the tube from rigid to soft at around 144° Fahrenheit. The human body can tolerate that temperature locally for short periods of time, according to the researchers.
“The amazing flexibility of this new lightweight thread is due to its ingenious simplicity and robustness that makes it easy to manufacture and use in a wide range of applications, shapes, and combinations with other technologies,” project director Dario Floreano said in prepared remarks.
“We would like to transform our thread into a robotic material that is able to mimic the complex functionalities of biological tissue,” EPFL scientist Alice Tonazzini added.