Feb. 25 - A flexible, energy-absorbent material called Armourgel has been adapted to help mitigate the impact of falls that often leave elderly people with broken bones. Armourgel's British designer says the material can be incorporated into conventional clothes, providing protection for fragile bodies falling on to hard surfaces. Jim Drury reports.
This is what can happen when a heavy object meets a fragile bone. But when protected by a newly developed, smart material called Armourgel, it's a different story. Armourgel has been designed to protect against the impact of falling onto hard surfaces. Older bones are often more fragile than those of the young, which is why Daniel Plant, a researcher at Imperial College London, wants to use his design to create lightweight undergarments or padding inside clothing for the elderly. Armourgel is a synergy of two materials. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. DANIEL PLANT, FOUNDER OF ARMOURGEL LTD, SAYING: "One is a strain rate sensitive material. It's actually called polyborodimethylsiloxane, it's soft and flowable so it moves with the musculature of the body but when you impact it it momentarily goes rigid, and what we've done is combine that with another material to make these geometries here, and this material is an auxetic material. When you impact it in this direction it actually folds in on itself....and it's the synergy of these materials that give you very good energy absorbing properties." Four times thinner than other similar materials on the market, Armourgel becomes rigid on impact, absorbing energy and mitigating the affect of a collision. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. DANIEL PLANT, FOUNDER OF ARMOURGEL LTD, SAYING: "If we take that here and we drop it on a standard material we can see that it bounces...(UPSOT: DROPS BALL)...we can do that again....(UPSOT: DROPS BALL AGAIN)... and if we do a similar thing with a small piece of Armourgel here we can see that it doesn't bounce at all." UPSOT: BALL DROPPING Plant says that Armourgel padding could allow the bones of many osteoporosis patients to withstand the impact of a heavy fall, and the UK's Royal Academy of Engineering agrees. The academy's Arnoud Jullens says they've awarded Plant an £85,000 grant to develop Armourgel further. SOUNDBITE (English) ARNOUD JULLENS (PRON: AR-NOOD YOO-LENS), HEAD OF ENTERPRISE AT ROYAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING, SAYING: "This technology might reduce the amount of hip fractures in this country, which is great for the elderly, of course, but also great, for example, for the healthcare system." The UK's National Osteoporosis Society say more than 1,000 people die every month in Britain alone, as a result of hip fractures. And in an effort to absorb the impact of a steadily ageing global population, Plant hopes to have the garments ready for market by 2016.