One of the most attractive characteristics of electroactive polymer (EAP) materials is their actuation potential for the development of biologically inspired (so-called biomimetic) systems that are lightweight, low power, inexpensive, resilient, damage tolerant, noiseless, and agile [Bar-Cohen and Breazeal, 2003]. As described in Topic 7, various applications are currently being considered in an effort to take advantage of these unique characteristics. This chapter describes a broad prospective of the current and potential applications of EAPs, providing both a reference guide and a vision for future potentials. As described in Topic 1 and Topic 3, the number of developed polymers that exhibit significant electromechanical response has been growing steadily since the early 1990s. These materials are establishing an arsenal of choices that may provide alternatives for designers who are considering related applications. To assist potential users of EAPs in assessing the applicability of relevant EAP actuators, these materials were divided in this book into two major groups: ionic and electronic. Typical responses of example materials of these two groups are shown in Figs. 1 and 2, respectively. In Fig. 1, a starfish-shaped IPMC is shown to bend significantly. The direction of bending depends on the voltage polarity. In Fig. 2, a dielectric film is shown with a circular carbon grease electroded area that is activated by an electric field to generate expansion. The expanded elastomer film contracts to the original shape when the electric voltage is turned off. This capability to generate a large strain cannot be matched by alternative electroactive materials such as piezoceramics and shape memory alloys. However, these materials are still in an emerging phase, and further development is needed to address the challenges to their practical application.
The lesson learned by the author from studying potential planetary applications for ionomeric polymer-metal composites (IPMC) is reviewed in this chapter. Also, the application of the dielectric EAP is briefly discussed.