Mushroom-inspired fastener is kinder and gentler than Velcro
The hooks in so-called "hook-and-loop" fastening materials (such as Velcro) are usually quite stiff, meaning they may damage other materials as they're pulled apart from them. Such is not the case, however, with a new mushroom-inspired alternative.
Developed at the Netherlands' Wageningen University, the experimental new 3D-printed fastener forgoes the usual stiff hooks for soft polymer structures that are shaped like tiny mushrooms. As it gets pressed against a piece of delicate fabric, the fastener's mushroom "caps" interlock with that fabric's fibers, holding the two together.
When someone tries pulling them apart, though, the mushrooms gently release the fibers – much more so than would be the case with Velcro hooks. As a result, the fabric isn't damaged, plus there isn't nearly as loud of a ripping sound.
"We wanted to prove that, if you go toward these less stiff features, they can be used to attach and detach to soft and delicate surfaces, like fabrics, without damage," says researcher Preeti Sharma, PhD. "It can be used in many applications such as for diapers or silent fasteners for military use. There is still a lot of research to be done, but the mushroom-shaped design worked quite well for soft mechanical fasteners."
The technology may even find use in foot pads for legged robots, which would allow them to walk up walls or across ceilings like geckos. In fact, the lizards actually already utilize a fairly similar mechanism for clinging to flat surfaces.
A paper on the study was recently published in the journal Biointerphases.