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.
Soft robots have attracted much interest recently, due to their potential capability to work effectively in unstructured environment. Soft actuators are key components in soft robots. Dielectric elastomer actuators are one class of soft actuators, which can deform in response to voltage. Dielectric elastomer actuators exhibit interesting attributes including large voltage-induced deformation and high energy density. These attributes make dielectric elastomer actuators capable of functioning as artificial muscles for soft robots. It is significant to develop untethered robots, since connecting the cables to external power sources greatly limits the robots’ functionalities, especially autonomous movements. In this paper we develop a soft untethered robot based on dielectric elastomer actuators. This robot mainly consists of a deformable robotic body and two paper-based feet. The robotic body is essentially a dielectric elastomer actuator, which can expand or shrink at voltage on or off. In addition, the two feet can achieve adhesion or detachment based on the mechanism of electroadhesion. In general, the entire robotic system can be controlled by electricity or voltage. By optimizing the mechanical design of the robot (the size and weight of electric circuits), we put all these components (such as batteries, voltage amplifiers, control circuits, etc.) onto the robotic feet, and the robot is capable of realizing autonomous movements. Experiments are conducted to study the robot’s locomotion. Finite element method is employed to interpret the deformation of dielectric elastomer actuators, and the simulations are qualitatively consistent with the experimental observations.
Soft robots are gaining in popularity due to their unique attributes such as low weight, compliance, flexibility and diverse range in motion types. This paper illustrates soft robots and actuators which are developed using dielectric elastomer. These developments include a jellyfish robot, a worm like robot and artificial muscle actuators for jaw movement in a robotic skull. The jellyfish robot which employs a bulged dielectric elastomer membrane has been demonstrated too generate thrust and buoyant forces and can move effectively in water. The artificial muscle for jaw movement employs a pure shear configuration and has been shown to closely mimic the jaw motion while chewing or singing a song. Thee inchworm robot, powered by dielectric elastomer actuator can demonstrate stable movement in one-direction.
Dielectric elastomer actuators have the advantage of mimicking the salient feature of life: movements in response to stimuli. In this paper we explore application of dielectric elastomer actuators to artificial muscles. These artificial muscles can mimic natural masseter to control jaw movements, which are key components in facial expressions especially during talking and singing activities. This paper investigates optimal design of the dielectric elastomer actuator. It is found that the actuator with embedded plastic fibers can avert electromechanical instability and can greatly improve its actuation. Two actuators are then installed in a robotic skull to drive jaw movements, mimicking the masseters in a human jaw. Experiments show that the maximum vertical displacement of the robotic jaw, driven by artificial muscles, is comparable to that of the natural human jaw during speech activities. Theoretical simulations are conducted to analyze the performance of the actuator, which is quantitatively consistent with the experimental observations.
The emerging field of soft robotics offers the prospect of applying soft actuators as artificial muscles in the robots, replacing traditional actuators based on hard materials, such as electric motors, piezoceramic actuators, etc. Dielectric elastomers are one class of soft actuators, which can deform in response to voltage and can resemble biological muscles in the aspects of large deformation, high energy density and fast response. Recent research into dielectric elastomers has mainly focused on issues regarding mechanics, physics, material designs and mechanical designs, whereas less importance is given to the control of these soft actuators. Strong nonlinearities due to large deformation and electromechanical coupling make control of the dielectric elastomer actuators challenging. This paper investigates feed-forward control of a dielectric elastomer actuator by using a nonlinear dynamic model. The material and physical parameters in the model are identified by quasi-static and dynamic experiments. A feed-forward controller is developed based on this nonlinear dynamic model. Experimental evidence shows that this controller can control the soft actuator to track the desired trajectories effectively. The present study confirms that dielectric elastomer actuators are capable of being precisely controlled with the nonlinear dynamic model despite the presence of material nonlinearity and electromechanical coupling. It is expected that the reported results can promote the applications of dielectric elastomer actuators to soft robots or biomimetic robots.
A dielectric elastomer actuator is one class of soft actuators which can deform in response to voltage. Dielectric elastomer actuators coupled with liquid have recently been developed as soft pumps, soft lenses, Braille displays, etc. In this paper, we conduct experiments to investigate the performance of a dielectric elastomer actuator which is coupled with water. The membrane is subject to a constant water pressure, which is found to significantly affect the electromechanical behaviour of the membrane. When the pressure is small, the membrane suffers electrical breakdown before snap-through instability, and achieves a small voltage-induced deformation. When the pressure is higher to make the membrane near the verge of the instability, the membrane can achieve a giant voltage-induced deformation, with an area strain of 1165%. When the pressure is large, the membrane suffers pressure-induced snap-through instability and may collapse due to a large amount of liquid enclosed by the membrane. Theoretical analyses are conducted to interpret these experimental observations.
A novel duct silencer was developed using dielectric elastomer absorbers (DEAs). Dielectric elastomer, a lightweight,
high elastic energy density and large deformation under high DC/AC voltages smart material, was used to fabricate this
new generation actuator. The acoustic performances of this duct silencer were experimentally investigated in a
transmission loss (TL) measurement system using two-load method. It was found that the resonance peaks of this new
duct silencer could be controlled by applying various DC voltages, a maximum resonance shift of 59.5Hz for the
resonance peaks was achieved which indicated that this duct silencer could be adjusted to absorb broadband range noise
without any addition mechanical part. Furthermore, the resonance shift and multiple resonances mechanisms using DEAs
were proposed and discussed in the present paper which was aiming to achieve broadband noise reduction. The present
results also provide insight into the appropriateness of the absorber for possible use as new acoustic treatment to replace
the traditional acoustic treatment.