The award-winning 3D-printed SpongeSuit has been proven to absorb water pollutants while the wearer swims, according to its designers.
The state-of-the-art bikini has won the first prize in the Reshape 2015 wearable technology international competition, convincing the panel of judges that it’s not just a highly innovative piece of clothing, but also an environment-friendly item.
Researchers from the University of California, Riverside were the ones who masterminded this futuristic apparel, after spending 4 years designing its revolutionary material. Their aim was to create a unique cloth that can assist in desalinating water for human consumption or irrigation, and in cleaning up oil or chemical spills.
The pollution-fighting properties of this swimsuit stem from its sponge fabric, made up of heated sucrose. This type of material isn’t just highly water-repelling, flexible and light, but it is also capable of absorbing and storing toxins from the sea.
Thus, its wearer can make a small but important contribution to the marine ecosystem’s well-being, by helping remove pollutants just through swimming around.
As manufacturers explain, this type of wearable technology poses no risk to the individual, since the harmful contaminants are safely stored inside the fabric’s inner pores, without actually touching the skin. Also, the toxins remain in the material, until it is heated at temperatures surpassing 1,000 degrees Celsius.
The eco-conscious swimsuit can absorb approximately 25 times more than its actual weight, and can be used around 20 times, before it has to be recycled.
Moreover, the smart material is “very cost-effective to produce”, according to Mihri Ozhan, who is one of its inventors and also works as electrical engineering professor at UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering.
Due to the fact that its precursor is sugar, the cost per gram is a measly 15 cents, and even that can be lowered through economies of scale, making the fabric extremely affordable.
“We designed a swimwear that is environmentally proactive, economically sustainable and intelligently manufactured, combining cutting edge 3D printing and nano-scale clean-tech material research”, summarized the inventors.
The technology was incorporated into smart clothing through the efforts of Pinar Guvenc, Inanc Eray and Gonzalo Carbajo, who work for an architecture and design firm which operates in Istanbul and New York.
The current prototype is a bikini set, whose cage-like structure was 3D-printed by employing a strong elastomer. Its flexibility is high enough in order to allow the clothes to wrap smoothly around the body, and apparently the material can also be used to create men’s swimsuits, swimming caps or wet suits.
Researchers are hopeful that their ultra-modern creation will enjoy mass market appeal, and believe it could also be incorporated in paint applied to satellites and airplanes, or in drone design.
The inventors from UC Riverside Office of Technology Commercialization have already filed patents for the fabric, and will be presenting it today at Maker Faire in Rome.
Image Source: Design Indaba