re:flex

A reflex is an action that is performed without conscious thought in response to given stimuli. re:flex is a reconfigurable, programmable composite that changes its shape in response to heat.

Why re:flex?

The idea of a living, breathing material world has captured the imagination of people for centuries. Natural materials and structures constantly respond and adapt to changes in the environment which makes organisms resilient to change. Yet our built environment is static and does not morph in response to changing conditions as natural structures do. Today, many objects are discarded simply because of the need for minor adjustments.


We initially set out to build climate-responsive architectural facades, but quickly realised that the materials we needed to start prototyping were hard to get a hold of and very expensive. Despite over three decades of research into shape memory materials, they are yet to be widely adopted and are largely invisible in our everyday lives. They are prohibitively expensive, difficult to obtain and even more difficult to process.


Consequently, we developed re:flex as a low cost, widely available and more sustainable shape memory material that can be manufactured at low temperatures on a large scale. With re:flex, we imagine a world where the materials we use are no longer inert, allowing objects to be reshaped by users according to their needs.

How it works

The material has 3 main capabilities: reversible fixation, thermal actuation and unlimited fitting.

As a shape memory composite, re:flex remembers the form it is made in. You can heat it, deform it into a temporary shape, and cool it down to freeze it in place. When heated again, it returns to its original shape.


It is made of two components, a flexible shell and a core with a higher stiffness. We can adjust the temperature range and speed at which the composite operates by varying the composition and geometry of the inner material.

Reversible Fixation

re:flex has the capacity to freeze in place at room temperature, allowing it to provide rigidity and structure to external elements. This fixation can be reversed easily with the application of heat, and used again for another purpose.

To demonstrate the reversible fixation aspect of the material, we developed a prototype for an arm cast that can be easily applied, removed and reused. Instead of discarding a plaster cast after a single use, our arm cast can be removed, disinfected and used again.

Thermal Actuation

re:flex has the potential to be used as a thermal actuator within a larger mechanism or system, providing force and motion to other components. This has potential for use in soft robotics, medical devices, thermal valves and switches. As a further application of thermal actuation, re:flex can generate enough force to deploy folded sails, move robotic end effectors and self-assemble complex structures.

To demonstrate the use of reflex as a thermal actuator, we developed a prototype for a furniture joint that can configure itself easily with heat. Instead of having to assemble a piece of furniture in multiple pieces, imagine being able to have flat- packed furniture unfold just through the application of heat.

Unlimited Fitting

The flexibility and programmability of re:flex allows it conform to different surfaces, taking its form when the material cools. This makes it very effective for ergonomic applications.

To demonstrate this capability of the material, we made a prototype of a bicycle saddle that can be remoulded to suit its owner. This can be done in matter of minutes, providing comfort tailored specifically to the unique contours of each human body.

Team

Our team is composed of Karlijn Sibbel (material development & product design), Pierre Azalbert (electrical engineering), Benton Ching, (philosophy & social sciences) and James Fraser (mechanical engineering & sustainable product development).

We met doing the Innovation Design Engineering masters programme at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London.

Shows

Work In Progress Show 2019, Royal College of Art, London (UK)

Science Evening, Royal Comission for the Exhibition of 1851, London (UK)

Awards

  • re:flex was selected as one of the finalists in the tech category of the Mayor of London’s Entrepeneurship 2019 competition.

Press

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