Soft robotic systems are well suited to unstructured, dynamic tasks and environments, owing to their ability to adapt and conform without damaging themselves or their surroundings. These abilities are crucial in areas such as human-robot interaction. Soft robotic systems are currently limited by the soft actuators that power them. To date, most soft actuators are based on pneumatics or shape-memory alloys, which have issues with efficiency, response speed, and portability. Dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) are controlled and powered electrically and excel with muscle-like actuation, but they typically require a rigid frame and prestretch to perform effectively. In addition, DEAs require complex stacks or structures to achieve linear contraction modes. We present a class of soft electrohydraulic transducers, termed Peano-HASEL (hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic) actuators, that combine the strengths of fluidic actuators and electrostatic actuators, while addressing many of their issues. These actuators use both electrostatic and hydraulic principles to linearly contract on application of voltage in a muscle-like fashion, without rigid frames, prestretch, or stacked configurations. We fabricated these actuators using a facile heat-sealing method with inexpensive commercially available materials. These prototypical devices demonstrated controllable linear contraction up to 10%, a strain rate of 900% per second, actuation at 50 hertz, and the ability to lift more than 200 times their weight. In addition, these actuators featured characteristics such as high optical transparency and the ability to self-sense their deformation state. Hence, this class of actuators demonstrates promise for applications such as active prostheses, medical and industrial automation, and autonomous robotic devices.
Source: Sciencemag.org – Science Robotics Latest Content