Inflatable actuators based on machine embroidery

The growing interest in wearable technologies has prompted the development of new techniques for integrating electronics into garments, and more specifically to overcome the challenges interfacing hard and soft components. In comparison to sensors and leads, the textile-based or integrated solutions for actuation remain underexplored. Approaching materials as extensions of actuators, we investigate machine embroidery as means to integrate silicone-based inflatables into garments. Following a research through design methodology, we created inflatables whose design and behavior are determined by machine embroidered substrates. Our iterative process resulted in 24 samples, divided in five series, exploring distinct challenges: 1) sewing attributes to create properties of inflatables; 2) fit & support; 3) improving integration & resolution of complex shapes; 4) enlarging area of actuation; and 5) textile integration. We discuss the impact of different parameters to the fabrication and the interaction possibilities of soft actuators. We show how machine embroidery allows shifting the complexity of the designs away from the casting process, simplifying fabrication, while enabling the creation of a wide range of shapes and behaviors through layering of textile structures. Our work extends the possibilities of integrating different technologies into garments through a single manufacturing process. We contribute with the detailed description of our design process and reflections on designing inflatables by means of machine embroidery.