Novel Microfabrication Methods for Creation of Stacked Dielectric Elastomer Actuators for Soft Robotics

M. Corbaci, K. Lamkin-Kennard
Rochester Institute of Technology, New York, United States

Keywords: Electroactive polymers, soft robotics, dielectric elastomers, linear actuators

Dielectric electroactive polymers (DEAs) are lightweight, robust, elastomeric actuators with high elasticity and rapid response rates. DEAs can output high forces in contrast to other soft robotic actuators, however, the use of these actuators has been limited to date due to the need for high input voltages and the types of actuation movements that can be generated. This study presents a novel approach for fabricating soft, flexible, linear DEA actuator fibers that address limitations of conventional DEAs. The approach utilizes soft-lithography and other microfabrication techniques to enable fabrication of silicone-based fibers comprised of hundreds of microscale DEA units with mechanically compliant electrodes. The primary advantages of the fiber structures over traditional DEAs are that the actuation voltage requirements are significantly lower, the fibers act as linear actuators with greater actuation distances, and the fibers can be bundled together, similar to the way in which myofibrils are bundled to form myocytes in skeletal muscle, to form larger, multi-directional actuators. The soft actuators could be integrated into a diverse range of soft robotic devices for defense applications including lightweight, exoskeletal devices; bioinspired, invertebrate robots for surveillance and exploration; soft robots for ordnance disposal; or micromanipulators.