Dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) are a promising enabling technology for a wide range of emerging applications, including robotics, artificial muscles, and microfluidics. This is due to their large actuation strains, rapid response rate, low cost and low noise, high energy density, and high efficiency when compared with alternative actuators. These properties make DEAs ideal for the actuation of soft submersible devices, although their use has been limited because of three main challenges: (i) developing suitable, compliant electrode materials; (ii) the need to effectively insulate the actuator electrodes from the surrounding fluid; and (iii) the rigid frames typically required to prestrain the dielectric layers. We explored the use of a frameless, submersible DEA design that uses an internal chamber filled with liquid as one of the electrodes and the surrounding environmental liquid as the second electrode, thus simplifying the implementation of soft, actuated submersible devices. We demonstrated the feasibility of this approach with a prototype swimming robot composed of transparent bimorph actuator segments and inspired by transparent eel larvae, leptocephali. This design achieved undulatory swimming with a maximum forward swimming speed of 1.9 millimeters per second and a Froude efficiency of 52%. We also demonstrated the capability for camouflage and display through the body of the robot, which has an average transmittance of 94% across the visible spectrum, similar to a leptocephalus. These results suggest a potential for DEAs with fluid electrodes to serve as artificial muscles for quiet, translucent, swimming soft robots for applications including surveillance and the unobtrusive study of marine life.
Source: Sciencemag.org – Science Robotics Latest Content