Publication: Effect of mechanical parameters on dielectric elastomer minimum energy structures
Soft robotics may provide many advantages compared to traditional robotics approaches based on rigid materials, such as intrinsically safe physical human-robot interaction, efficient/stable locomotion, adaptive morphology, etc. The objective of this study is to develop a compliant structural actuator for soft a soft robot using dielectric elastomer minimum energy structures (DEMES). DEMES consist of a pre-stretched dielectric elastomer actuator (DEA) bonded to an initially planar flexible frame, which deforms into an out-of-plane shape which allows for large actuation stroke. Our initial goal is a one-dimensional bending actuator with 90 degree stroke. Along with frame shape, the actuation performance of DEMES depends on mechanical parameters such as thickness of the materials and pre-stretch of the elastomer membrane. We report here the characterization results on the effect of mechanical parameters on the actuator performance. The tested devices use a cm-size flexible-PCB (polyimide, 50 μm thickness) as the frame-material. For the DEA, PDMS (approximately 50 μm thickness) and carbon black mixed with silicone were used as membrane and electrode, respectively. The actuators were characterized by measuring the tip angle and the blocking force as functions of applied voltage. Different pre-stretch methods (uniaxial, biaxial and their ratio), and frame geometries (rectangular with different width, triangular and circular) were used. In order to compare actuators with different geometries, the same electrode area was used in all the devices. The results showed that the initial tip angle scales inversely with the frame width, the actuation stroke and the blocking force are inversely related (leading to an interesting design trade-off), using anisotropic pre-stretch increased the actuation stroke and the initial bending angle, and the circular frame shape exhibited the highest actuation performance.