Paramedics may soon have a new instrument for their emergency first aid kits–a smart fabric that, when exposed to a vacuum, stiffens to create a plastic-like mold. The fabric could act as a kind of insta-cast, allowing emergency workers to quickly immobilize parts of a victim’s body that may be vulnerable to permanent damage, like the neck and back.
According to a press release provided by Tecnalia, the Spanish company behind the new material, the insta-cast could be ready for market by early next year. The release doesn’t provide any specific details about how the material–which they’re calling VarStiff–works, but a Spanish-language promotional video suggests that the insta-cast will look like a super-slim, flexible mat with an attached air-pressure valve. Inside, a layer of VarStiff is surrounded by a plastic, air-filled sac. When the operator switches on the pressure valve, the air is sucked out of the sac, and the fabric hardens.
Tecnalia has also announced vague plans for other products down the road. Again, the details are scant, but it’s easy to imagine that a light, flexible fabric that hardens to pretty much any rigid shape in a matter of seconds could be used for all kinds of cool stuff, from pop-up furniture to self-customizing orthopedics.