There are many people who could use a bit of help moving their limbs, but they don't necessarily need a full-on exoskeleton. Well, imagine if their clothes could provide that help. Such a thing may one day be possible, thanks to the recent creation of "textile muscles."

In a study conducted at Sweden's Linköping University and University of Borås, scientists coated mass-producible cellulose yarn with a flexible electroactive polymer known as polypyrrole.

When a low voltage is applied to the polymer, it increases in volume, causing the yarn fibers to increase in length accordingly – when the electrical current is switched off, the fibers retract back to their original length. By varying the manner in which those fibers are woven together, it's possible to tune the force of the material toward different tasks.

In the lab, the researchers have already used the technology to lift small weights.

"Enormous and impressive advances have been made in the development of exoskeletons, which now enable people with disabilities to walk again," says Linköping's Prof. Edwin Jager. "But the existing technology looks like rigid robotic suits. It is our dream to create exoskeletons that are similar to items of clothing, such as 'running tights' that you can wear under your normal clothes."

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Science Advances.

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