High-pressure fluidic circuits are woven into textiles without an external pump. (Credit: EPFL)

A fiber-like pump allows high-pressure fluidic circuits to be woven into textiles without an external pump. Soft supportive exoskeletons, thermoregulatory clothing, and immersive haptics can therefore be powered from pumps sewn into the fabric of the devices themselves.

The LMTS fiber pumps use a principle called charge injection electrohydrodynamics (EHD) to generate a fluid flow without any moving parts. Two helical electrodes embedded in the pump wall ionize and accelerate molecules of a special non-conductive liquid. The ion movement and electrode shape generate a net forward fluid flow, resulting in silent, vibration-free operation, and requiring just a palm-sized power supply and battery.

To achieve the pump’s unique structure, the researchers developed a novel fabrication technique that involves twisting copper wires and polyurethane threads together around a steel rod, and then fusing them with heat. After the rod is removed, the 2 mm fibers can be integrated into textiles using standard weaving and sewing techniques.

The pump’s simple design has a number of advantages. The materials required are cheap and readily available, and the manufacturing process can be easily scaled up. Because the amount of pressure generated by the pump is directly linked to its length, the tubes can be cut to match the application, optimizing performance while minimizing weight. The robust design can also be washed with conventional detergents.