The Centre for Applied Research Tecnalia Research & Innovation has through its FIK initiative designed Varstiff, a smart textile material that can adopt different shapes; when vacuum is applied to it, it turns rigid once again and achieves hardness equivalent to that of a conventional plastic. The material reverts to its flexible state once the vacuum is released. The first product Varstiff will be used for will be an emergency immobiliser for accident victims. Thanks to the encouragement and collaboration of Janus Development, this product has been selected by the Botin Foundation as one of the three award-winning projects in the first edition of its programme “Mind the Gap”. To support its launch onto the market a new technology-based enterprise will be set up to operate in the healthcare sector initially, but with plans to expand its activity to other sectors like the automotive or leisure sectors.
The new material designed by Tecnalia can be adapted to any part of the body and in any situation; it can be fitted in its soft, malleable state so that afterwards when vacuum is applied to it, it becomes as stiff as plaster of Paris. This makes it possible in the event of an accident to immediately immobilise parts of the victim’s body that are difficult to access without moving it, like the neck, back or thorax.
The funding of 350,000 euros over two years provided by the Botín Foundation through its “Mind the Gap” programme will enable the development of the first two products to be completed: an immobiliser for emergencies, and a position fixator to improve the life quality of people who have to use wheel chairs. The new enterprise is expected to be up and running by the end of 2013 and is expected to launch its first product onto the market early in 2014. Its headquarters will be located in the Basque Country and it is estimated that it will achieve an accumulated turnover of 2 million euros during the first four years it is operating.
This revolutionary material also offers solutions in other spheres of healthcare, like orthopaedics, where it has advantages over ordinary solutions that use elastic straps that are closed using Velcro, or inflatable cushions. These solutions apply pressure and therefore exert force on the skin; and apart from lacking the necessary stiffness, they reduce comfort.
The automotive sector, leisure and sports are other fields in which this material can have new uses to ensure the safety and comfort of its users. In the automotive sector this material will contribute greater comfort and personalisation of different items, like seats that can be adjusted to each person, systems for absorbing energy in doors, or flexible luggage racks. In the sphere of sports, it could lead to flexible items for camping like chairs, tables, mats, etc. Likewise, this material could have a pioneering role in the development of high-performance protection textiles, like for example, clothing for extreme sports or for security personnel.
“Mind the Gap” programme
This product was selected by the Botín Foundation, the private Spanish organisation that offers the most funding and management support to the world of science. The aim is to drive the product forward in its starting up and market launch phases by setting up new enterprises. And through its “Mind the Gap” programme, the Botín Foundation is investing in setting up enterprises as a social aim, apart from carrying out management, coordination and advisory work in them. That way the Botín Foundation is providing research with a business structure so that within two years it will be possible to secure investors to enable the project to continue until it reaches the market. Since 2003, the Botín Foundation has invested over 25 million euros in Technology Transfer.