Dielectric elastomer (DE) actuators such as conventional double cone configurations have demonstrated that coupled DE membranes can be rigidly-coupled to execute antagonistic out-of-plane actuation. This paper presents experimental analysis of the compliant coupling in the emerging magnetically-coupled DE actuator (MCDEA) design, which exploits contactless magnetic repulsion to create a frictionless coupling between DE membranes. The compliance of this coupling enables the advantage of having two different actuation modes: antagonistic reciprocation and bi-directional expansion. However, since this compliance adds an additional degree-of-freedom, it increases the complexity of the actuator’s dynamics because the coupling distance can exhibit oscillatory behavior that is distinct from each of the actuator’s output oscillations in terms of phase difference and frequency. In this work, the relationship between DEA membrane stiffness and required magnetic force is experimentally analyzed before we present an investigation into the phase space of the compliant coupling and its relationship with the stroke amplitude. It is shown that the fundamental frequency of the MCDEA’s output stroke (46.1 Hz) corresponds to a super-harmonic frequency of the magnetic coupling that is double that of the output. The fundamental frequency of the coupling (87.6 Hz) is found to correspond to a second resonant peak in the MCDEA’s output with a much lower amplitude than at 46.1 Hz. This suggests that the dynamics can be exploited by controlling the excitation frequency for unidirectional push/pull or bidirectional expansion/contraction actuation, which creates potential for new compliant DE actuator and generator designs.
The inherent elasticity of dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) gives this technology great potential in energy efficient locomotion applications. In this work, a modular double cone DEA is developed with reduced manufacturing and maintenance time costs. This actuator can lift 45 g of mass (5 times its own weight) while producing a stroke of 10.4 mm (23.6% its height). The contribution of the elastic energy stored in antagonistic DEA membranes to the mechanical work output is experimentally investigated by adding delay into the DEA driving voltage. Increasing the delay time in actuation voltage and hence reducing the duty cycle is found to increase the amount of elastic energy being recovered but an upper limit is also noticed. The DEA is then applied to a three-segment leg that is able to move up and down by 17.9 mm (9% its initial height), which demonstrates the feasibility of utilizing this DEA design in legged locomotion.