Bulletproof vests worn by police officers and soldiers offers a degree of body armor protection, but there are still areas of vulnerability around limbs to allow them to move freely. A professor at the University of South Florida (USF) is working on technology that may fill in those gaps.
Dr. Craig Lusk, assistant professor at mechanical engineering at USF, has been working with shape shifting surfaces — tiled arrays of polygonal cells, each cell consisting of compliant flexures attached to thin, overlapping plates or shells.
Lusk says that the best way to describe shape-shifting surfaces is to imagine a spring and a square. “Think of a spring flattened, he says. “I manipulate it so I can determine the shape when I pull on it. Then I connect some plates to them. I have layers of plates that slide across each other and move in interesting ways.
“They don’t move unless you push on them. A square remains a square until you push on it. Imagine you squish it together to make an overlapping square, which can expand or contract. It can go from square to diamond shape held by the springs. It’s still very strong but it’s flexible enough to accommodate any shape I want to make it into.”
Shape shifting surfaces for improved body armor protection
Lusk says shape shifting surfaces hold promise for body armor. “The idea I’m going for with all this is to make these complicated surfaces work as barriers in one direction but that are flexible in another — they can move and protect at the same time, like armor. I would love to have these arranged so they can protect better body armor protection for our police and soldiers.”
In addition to developing shape shifting surfaces for body armor, Lusk is working with another USF faculty member, Dr. Tom Weller of USF’s department of electrical engineering, to develop flexible antennas using his shape-shifting technology. “There’s a lot of freedom in the university setting. It’s fun to have the opportunity to pursue my own creative ideas and see them come to fruition. They’ve done very well with patenting and licensing. They’re very supportive on that side of things.”