Some of the most recognizable pieces of technology in Dune are the characters’ stillsuits—clothing integrated with a network of tubing that recycles excess bodily fluids to keep wearers hydrated in the planet Arrakis’ hostile desert environment. Although Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic is set tens of thousands of years in the future, it looks like variations on the stillsuit are already making their way into everyday life. As detailed in a paper published on Thursday in the journal Science, researchers at Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Ecole de Lausanne have developed an innovative new fiber fluid tubing capable of generating its own flow and pressure that can be integrated into everyday garments.
According to the team’s announcement, the fiber pumps rely on a principle known as charge injection electrohydrodynamics (EHD) that induces fluid flows without the need for any moving mechanisms. Here’s how it all goes down (or up, depending on the flow): two corkscrew-like electrodes installed within pump walling ionize and accelerate a specialized, non-conductive fluid’s molecules. Powered by a palm-sized battery and power supply, the fluid ions’ movement coupled with the electrodes’ shape allow for a net forward flow, resulting in the desired circulation.
Previous variations on similar technology often required cumbersome, tethered external pumps. But the new design encompasses the pumps within the tubing itself, offering a wealth of new, portable potentials. Researchers cite such situations as heating or cooling wearers working within extreme hot or cold temperature environments. Therapeutically, tube-laced wearables could aid in easing patients’ inflammation, or boost athletic performance.
“These applications require long lengths of tubing anyway, and in our case, the tubing is the pump,” Michael Smith, a post-doctoral researcher and paper lead author, said in a statement. “This means we can make very simple and lightweight fluidic circuits that are convenient and comfortable to wear.”
[Reddit: Moderators ban AI-generated artwork from ‘Dune’ subreddit.]
The team’s paper also mentions the possibility of integrating the invention into soft exoskeleton technology as “artificial muscles,” which could help with mobility and movement. Yet another example showcased in the team’s research were wearable gloves utilizing temperature changing fluids, which could enhance certain virtual reality activities.
The system already shows immense promise in terms of scalability, as well as utilizes cheap and widely available materials—so much so that the garments are washing machine-safe using everyday store detergents. They may not supply their wearers with biological hydration like stillsuits, but give researchers some time. After all, it took Dune thousands of years to get there.