Introduction Shape memory alloys (SMA) are metals which can return to their original shape after deformation through the application of heat. They are in wide use for applications ranging from cardiovascular stents to reversible energy-absorbing bumpers for automobiles. SMA’s take advantage of the metal’s transition between two distinct structures, providing rapid motion at moderate forces. Technology description Inspired by the tendrils of pea vines and the cucumber plant, SMA-based actuators can be used to attach and detach connectors for ropes and cables. The actuators are a combination of SMA and super-elastic metals which provide strength as well as the ability to return to an original coil configuration. The alloys are designed with a transition temperature of less than 100 degrees C, so that hot water or any other moderate heat source can be used to activate the shape memory process. Business opportunity The coiling/uncoiling actuators can be used as ‘smart ropes’, i.e., ropes that are able to quickly be attached to an anchoring point when heated. Other applications are possible, such as self-tying sutures, blind wall connectors, and self-lacing closures. Stage of development Shape memory alloys have been under development at the University of Washington for over six years. Demonstration prototypes have been made and further work is underway to optimize the SMA actuators for new applications. Intellectual property position The technology is available for licensing. U.S. and foreign patent protection is under consideration at this time.
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