Can soft robotic garments enable a self-assembling wardrobe?

”It could be used as assistive garments and assistive devices, for example for paralyzed people,” says Pola Demianiuk, Interdisciplinary Fashion Designer MA at the Swedish School of Textiles.
October 13, 2022

Demianiuk explains that working with soft robotic garments means that she uses soft robotic technology and translates it into the properties of textiles to actually move the garment. 

— My garments are self-assembling, which means that they dress the body without the necessity of body movement or body activity. It looks really funny — however, in the end, it could be used as assistive garments and assistive devices, for example for paralyzed people. So, I do believe that this kind of solution could be really implemented into the world of fashion and around the body because the technology is very soft, which means it’s very body-compliable and doesn’t require any rigid part to be activated. It’s activated with inflation and the fabrics are really sensitive and soft for our bodies.

What’s your background? 

— In fashion. My father is an engineer and I always wanted to implement different fields into fashion and look for not only inspiration but also to incorporate other backgrounds to make it multi-disciplinary — just like my work. I believe that there are so many great solutions all around us and all that we have to do is to connect the dots.

And how did you come up with the initial idea?

— I’ve been inspired by biomimicry and biomimetic research and I was digging and digging, what else could it be? For some reason, I also tried to make some experiments with inflatables and in the end, I combined these two worlds and figured out that there is something called soft robotics. So, it took me like two years to see that it’s possible, how to do it, and what I’m supposed to do with it — and I can do it with a kind of DIY approach at my home like using a 3D printer, or at school, says Deminaniuk.

It’s now a student work. Have you also tried it in any pilot project for end-users?

— Not in a natural environment — I need to develop it a bit to make it more commercialised. However, I tried it on both mannequins and models in a lab. The only thing I need to do to activate the garments is very strong, compressed air. So, for now, I use industrial compressors which is why I can’t take it out of the lab yet. I depend on the development of engineered fields here — every soft robotic researcher is limited for now by this limitation of the air source. I think it’s a matter of one, or two years maximum, to figure it out.

And is that your end goal, to reach the market with this?

— Probably. For now, it doesn’t really look like a commercialised collection, it’s more of presenting the possibilities of the technology. I figured out how to make the mechanism and also how to adapt the construction part to its possibilities given that it’s not like a regular construction. The regular constructions make us insert our lymph into the holes, for example when wearing a T-shirt. So I have to figure out how to make a construction not forcing the body to move, says Demianiuk. She continues:

— I was granted Chalmers’ grant to make novelty research and market research, so I can look at the possibilities and what is actually needed in a very practical way. In the end, I would love to make not only assistive garments but also everyday products that can support us every day — such as self-assembling shoes — and look at the garments in a completely different way. They can do much more for us than we think.

You mentioned that your father is an engineer. Has he seen the project?

— Yes! He looks at fashion…in his own way, like: ’What are you gonna do with it in the end?’ I already know that I made some mistakes on the way and he’s immediately recognised what is supposed to be altered — ’this tube is too tiny, you need to make it larger and then it should work’ and such.

What are the future plans for you and the project?

— It may happen that I will consider a PhD. For the project, I believe that the technology needs a bit of development before it’s adapted to being commercial. Maybe, I will do collaborations with other companies that also work on the same technology but in other contexts, to get access to their lab and share my background, collaboration, and help each other. This is what I’m looking for now.