Remember in the movie “Batman begins” the super cool memory shape cape he had? If you don’t remember that, then may be you should revise the movie, but just to give you a clue – here’s a YouTube link to the scene. Turns out memory fabrics have been around for real longer than one might think! In 2014 in the US patent office there was a patent submitted by Kenneth Gall and Christopher Yakacki , named “Shape memory polymer” (Patent). It basically describes a polymer material, which exhibits shape memory properties between temperatures of 34° and 50°C. Simply put, it’s a linear acrylate chain and an multi-functional acrylate cross-linker. Their invention has recovery time between 10 seconds and 10 minutes… If Batman was to fly with that one, he better chose only very very tall buildings or cliffs to start from! But what is cooler – the inventors suggest that their material (being activated at body temperature) can be used for joint repair surgery to repair ligaments in the knees.
There are plenty of variations already of shape memory polymers. The range of ways to trigger their transition, aside of temperature, is impressively wide – by an electric or magnetic field, light or solution for example. Some of those materials can even remember more than two shapes to make things even more amazing!
The variety of shape memory materials is so big and they are already so wide-spread that you’d be amazed by how many of them you encounter on a daily basis. Just to start you off with the more simple ones and may be no-to-fancy types – think of the foam you used last time when you were putting the windows in your house/apartment. Or the memory-foam bed that you purchased couple of years ago, the hi-tech insoles in your running shoes, the seat of your bicycle, the Kevlar vests, helmets… You name it – they all contain one type or the other of shape memory materials. On the “cooler” looking side, you have car fenders in development – until you master the parking, you could fix all dents just by applying heat to them, say… By using your hairdryer!
While flying like Batman might not be perfectly possible just yet (or simply the patents for those capes hadn’t expired yet for us to see them), there are many fancy things that Shape Memory Polymers are and can be used for. Given that there’s a lot of research done on SMPs daily – even cooler applications are deemed to appear before you know it so look closely – you never know what you might see flying through the night sky!