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Chain mail-like material transforms from flexible to rigid upon impact

Researchers at Caltech University in the US and NTU Singapore developed a 3D printed chain mail-like material that can transform from a fabric-like state to specific solid shapes under pressure.

The material is similar to Batman’s cape from the 2005 movie ‘Batman Begins’, which is generally flexible, but can be made rigid when used as a glider.

The fabric is 3D printed from nylon plastic polymers and consists of hollow octahedrons (two pyramids attached to each other at the bottom). These octahedrons interlock with each other in response to outside stress.

Without stress, the material is like fabric, but when the octahedrons are jammed, the material becomes a supportive or protective layer, which makes the material highly suitable in applications like exoskeletons or protective gear. It could even be used for use as a portable bridge, which could be unrolled on location and with cables pulled taut, like the drawstrings of a hoodie.

When the material is encased in plastic and vacuum-packed, it becomes 25 times more rigid and can hold up to 50 times its own weight. Aside from nylon, the material could also be made of aluminium to protect against a stronger impact.

Images: Caltech