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Soft mobile robots driven by foldable dielectric elastomer actuators

Jinxiong Zhou's picture

A cantilever beam with elastic hinge pulled antagonistically by two dielectric elastomer (DE) membranes in tension forms a foldable actuator if one DE membrane is subject to a voltage and releases part of tension. Simply placing parallel rigid bars on the prestressed DE membranes results in enhanced actuators working in pure shear state. We report design, analysis, fabrication and experiment of soft mobile robots that are moved by such foldable DE actuators. We describe systematic measurement of the foldable actuators, and perform theoretical analysis of such actuators based on minimization of total energy, and good agreement is achieved between model prediction and measurement. We develop two versions of prototypes of soft mobile robots driven either by two sets of DE membranes or one DE membrane and elastic springs. We demonstrate locomotion of these soft mobile robots and highlight several key design parameters that influence locomotion of the robots. A 45 gram soft robot driven by a cyclic triangle voltage with amplitude 7.4 kV demonstrates maximal stroke 160 mm or maximal rolling velocity 42 mm/s. The underlying mechanics and physics of foldable DE actuators can be leveraged to develop other soft machines for various applications. 

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