Photos: Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

No, these textiles aren't for stitching up duds on the cheap. Try space exploration, architecture and other high-performance arenas.

4 min read

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

In "Extreme Textiles: Designing for High Performance," the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum is showcasing "highly engineered" fabrics that have applications in architecture, aerospace and medicine, among other fields, according to a statement from the museum. The fabric at right, designed and manufactured by Japan's Sakase Adtech, is triaxially woven carbon fiber.

Credit: Matt Flynn

Triaxial fabric designed and manufactured by Sakase Adtech

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

This implantable device for reconstructive shoulder surgery--one of 150 exhibits that are part of the show--was designed by Simon Frostick and Alan McLeod. It was developed by Ellis Developments and manufactured by Pearsalls.

Credit: Matt Flynn

Bioimplantable device for reconstructive shoulder surgery

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

The Mars Pathfinder used lander airbags like these during missions in 1996 and 2003. The gear is made of layers of plain woven Vectran (liquid crystal polymer). Some of the layers have silicone coating for gas retention. The airbags were developed by ILC Dover and NASA.

Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and ILC Dover

Mars Pathfinder lander airbag

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

This space suit glove has embedded robotic controls. It was developed by NASA, Softswitch and ILC Dover.

Credit: Matt Flynn

Space suit glove with embedded robotic controls

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

Inspired by the shape of a cheetah's rear leg, the Cheetah Flex-Foot prosthetic sprinting foot allows runners to gain a little extra altitude. Made of carbon fiber, the foot was designed by Van Phillips, engineered by Hilary Pouchak and manufactured by Ossur North America. The fiber was manufactured by Mitsubishi Rayon and the textile manufactured by Newport Adhesives & Composites U.S.A. The runner pictured here is Marlon Shirley.

Credit: Ossur North America

Cheetah Flex-Foot prosthetic sprinting foot

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

This inflatable beam is being used by the U.S. Army to set up temporary maintence shelters for aircraft. Among their benefits, the beams are easily transported and set up. They're also resistant to cuts and gunshots. The beam was designed by David Cronk and manufactured by Vertigo. It's made of braided Vectran fiber and polyurethane coating.

Credit: Vertigo

AirBeams by Vertigo inflatable support beam

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

This device is a textile component of a rocket engine turbopump. It is lighter and more efficient than a metal version would be, the museum's Web site says, and it can function in temperatures of up to 1,500 degrees Celsius. It was designed by Williams International and developed by Foster-Miller for the U.S. Air Force.

Credit: Foster-Miller Inc.

A textile component of a rocket engine turbopump

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

This boat sail is made of a molded composite of continuous carbon and aramid fibers arranged in a pattern that anticipates load paths. These materials were laminated between layers of Mylar. It's more resistant to stretching and stronger than traditionally made sails, the museum's Web site says. This process was designed by J. P. Baudet and Luc Dubois, and the sail itself was manufactured by North Sails Nevada.

Credit: North Sails Nevada

High-tech boat sail

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

This race car--the WilliamsF1 BMW FW26--is lightweight and fast, thanks to the use of composite materials. The car's chassis is made of carbon aramid epoxy composite, and the driver's seat was anatomically formed in carbon/epoxy composite material with Alcantara covering. The car was manufactured by BMW WilliamsF1 Team, and the chassis was manufactured by WilliamsF1. The tires are by Michelin and the P84 engine by BMW.

Credit: BMW WilliamsF1 Team

WilliamsF1 BMW FW26

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

This "flow bicycle saddle" is constructed of a leno-woven mesh of elastomeric polyester monofilaments, built around a thermoplastic perimeter and a hollow titanium rail. It was designed by Tylor Garland, SaddleCo, Aldis Rauda and Boombang. It was engineered by Dahti Technology and manufactured by SaddleCo. The textile was designed by Bob Benko and Quantum Group, and it was manufactured by Quantum Group.

Credit: SaddleCo., Boombang, Dahti Technology, and Quantum Group.

Flow bicycle saddle

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

This electrospun fiber mat was developed by the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center, Supporting Science and Technology Directorate, and fabricated by Heidi Schreuder-Gibson. It's made in part of electrospun nanofibers of polyethylene oxide.

Credit: Cary Wolinsky/Aurora

electrospun fiber mat

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

This "knotless" fishing net can be folded up into a compact package that's just 1 percent of its size when expanded. The net is constructed of interconnected twisted polyester threads and was manufactured by Japan's Toray Industries.

Credit: Matt Flynn

Fishing net

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

This Hemashield Gold 4 woven double velour vascular graft was designed by Boston Scientific. The company--which also designed the first-ever vascular graft during the 1950s--optimizes the device with this model, made of crimped polyester with bovine collagen.

Credit: Boston Scientific

Hemashield Gold 4

Weaving high-tech fabrics of the future

This sketch depicts a structure made of 24 twisted strands of pultruded and braided carbon fiber. It was designed by Los Angeles-based Testa Architecture and Design (principal architects were Peter Testa and Devyn Weiser).

Credit: Testa Architecture and Design, Los Angeles

Carbon tower