It never fails. No matter where you’re sitting in relation to the last open wall outlet at the cafe, your computer’s charging cord is always just a bit too short. Luckily, a new prototype cable developed at North Carolina State University will let you plug in, even if the outlet’s in the next room.
The new cables are capable of stretching eight times their original length — that’s an order of magnitude longer than what existing ones can do — according to research published yesterday by a team from NCSU in the journal, Advanced Functional Materials. This extreme elasticity is possible because the cables don’t contain copper wire. Instead, they’re constructed from rubber tubing filled with a highly-conductive metal alloy, which functions much like a battery’s electrolyte.
As Dr. Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at NC State and co-author of a paper on the research, explains,
Previous efforts to create stretchable wires focus on embedding metals or other electrical conductors in elastic polymers, but that creates a trade-off. Increasing the amount of metal improves the conductivity of the composite, but diminishes its elasticity. Our approach keeps the materials separate, so you have maximum conductivity without impairing elasticity. In short, our wires are orders of magnitude more stretchable than the most conductive wires, and at least an order of magnitude more conductive than the most stretchable wires currently in the literature.
This is obviously still nowhere near market-ready but the team already is envisioning the wire’s uses in headphones, phone chargers, and laptop cables, among others. Extension cords just became a legacy technology.