A real-life version of The Wrong Trousers immortalised by Wallace and Gromit is being developed by a British team of robotic experts.
The close-fitting “smart trousers” will employ artificial muscles to assist the mobility of frail elderly and disabled individuals.
Ultimately they could even replace stairlifts and wheelchairs, according to the University of Bristol team.
Dr Jonathan Rossiter, from the university’s department of engineering mathematics, who is leading the £2m project, said: “This is the first time soft robotics technologies have been used to address the many rehabilitation and healthcare needs in one single type of wearable device.
“Many existing devices used by people with mobility problems can cause or aggravate conditions such as poor circulation, skin pressure damage or susceptibility to falls, each of which is a drain on health resources.
“Wearable soft robotics has the potential to improve many of these problems and reduce healthcare costs at the same time too.”
The “intelligent clothing” will use artificial muscles made from smart materials and reactive plastic-like molecules capable of exerting great forces.
Control systems will be incorporated that monitor the wearer and work with the body’s own muscles to provide assistance when needed.
The system could help vulnerable people avoid falls, provide the added strength needed to move between sitting and standing, and make it easier to climb stairs.
The three-year project, due to start in July, is part of a £5.3m funding programme from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to support the development of assistive and rehabilitative devices.
In the 1993 Aardman animation The Wrong Trousers, Wallace becomes trapped in a pair of ex-Nasa robotic “Techno Trousers” that carry him off to steal a valuable diamond.