Items such as the traditional cervical collar, used by emergency medical technicians to immobilize the heads and necks of accident victims, may soon be getting some competition. Developed by Spanish research center Tecnalia, Varstiff is a textile material that is ordinarily soft and malleable, but that achieves a hardness equivalent to that of rigid plastic once a vacuum is applied.

Each piece of Varstiff has its own built-in vacuum hose, and can be easily molded around any part of the body while still in its flexible state. It becomes “as stiff as plaster of Paris” when a vacuum is applied via its hose, however, and stays that way until the vacuum is released.

Because the material itself becomes rigid, it doesn’t place pressure upon the skin, unlike braces that are cinched down with Velcro closures or that are inflated.

Initially, it will be used in products designed to immobilize accident victims, or to hold body parts of wheelchair users in position. Down the road, it might also find use in things like car seats that can be custom-fit to each user, flexible luggage racks, camping gear, or clothing items for security personnel or extreme athletes.

The first Varstiff products are expected to hit the market early next year. The material can be seen in use in the video below.

View gallery - 2 images