Modern unmanned aerial vehicles are gaining promising success because of their versatility, flexibility, and minimized risk of operations. Most of them are normally designed and constructed based on hard components. For example, the body of the vehicle is generally made of aluminum or carbon fibers, and electric motors are adopted as the main actuators. These hard materials are able to offer reasonable balance of structural strength and weight. However, they exhibit apparent limitations. For instance, such robots are fragile in even small clash with surrounding objects. In addition, their noise is quite high due to spinning of rotors or propellers.
Here we aim to develop a soft flying robot using soft actuators. Due to its soft body, the robot can work effectively in unstructured environment. The robot may also exhibit interesting attributes, including low weight, low noise, and low power consumption. This robot mainly consists of a dielectric elastomer balloon made of two layers of elastomers. One is VHB (3M), and the other is natural rubber. The balloon is filled with helium, which can make the robot nearly neutral. When voltage is applied to either of the two dielectric elastomers, the balloon expands. So that the buoyance can be larger than the robot’s weight, and the robot can move up. In this seminar, we will show how to harness the dielectric breakdown of natural rubber to achieve giant deformation of this soft robot. Based on this method, the robot can move up effectively in air.