Composite Elastic Skins for Shape-Changing Structures

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NASA Langley Research Center has developed composite elastic skins for covering shape-changing (morphable) structures. These skins are intended especially for use on advanced aircraft that change shapes in order to assume different aerodynamic properties. Examples of aircraft shape changes include growth or shrinkage of bumps, conformal changes in wing planforms, cambers, twists, and bending of integrated leading and trailing-edge flaps. Prior to this invention, there was no way of providing smooth aerodynamic surfaces capable of large deflections while maintaining smoothness and sufficient rigidity.


* Skin can be stretched exceeding 20% or otherwise warped with low actuation forces in one or both in-plane directions
* Increased comfort, flexibility and function for prosthetics
* Skin maintains sufficient smoothness and rigidity for aerospace applications


Medical devices – prosthetics
Sporting equipment – helmets
Automotive – active aerodynamics

The Technology

Skins skeletal layers which are embedded in an elastomeric sheet.

The composite elastic skin can include one or more internal skeletal layer(s) made of a metal or a suitably stiff composite. By use of water-jet cutting, laser cutting, photolithography, or some other suitable technique, regular patterns of holes are cut into the skeletal layers (see figure). The skeletal layers are thereby made into planar springs. The skeletal layers are embedded in a castable elastomer. The anisotropic stiffness of the skin can be tailored through choice of the materials, the thicknesses of the skeletal and elastomeric layers, and the sizes and shapes of the cutouts. Moreover, by introducing local variations of thicknesses and/or cutout geometry, one can obtain local variations in the anisotropic stiffness. Threaded fasteners for attachment to actuators and/or the underlying structure are inserted in the internal skeleton at required locations.

  • Awards

  • 2018 Aerospace & Defense Honorable Mention
  • 2018 Top 100 Entries


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  • Name:
    Kim Middleton
  • Type of entry:
    Team members:
    Christopher M. Cagle (NASA LaRC)
    Robin W. Schlecht (NASA LaRC)
  • Profession:
    Awards Liaison Officer
  • Patent status: