186. submersible soft robotics driven by fluid electrode dielectric elastomer actuators

Department: NanoEngineering
Faculty Advisor(s): Michael T. Tolley

Primary Student
Name: Caleb Michael Christianson
Email: c6christ@ucsd.edu
Phone: 816-686-0913
Grad Year: 2018

Recently, dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) have gathered interest for soft robotics due to their low cost, light weight, large strain, low power consumption, and high energy density. However, developing reliable, compliant electrodes for DEAs remains an ongoing challenge due to issues with fabrication, uniformity of the conductive layer, and mechanical stiffening of the actuators caused by conductive materials with large Young's moduli. In this work, we present a method for preparing, patterning, and utilizing conductive fluid electrodes for dielectric elastomers in soft robotics. Further, when we submerse the DEAs in a bath containing a conductive fluid connected to ground, the bath serves as a second electrode, obviating the need for depositing a conductive layer to serve as either of the electrodes required of most DEAs. When we apply an electrical potential to the conductive fluid in the actuator with respect to ground, the electric field across the dielectric membrane causes charge carriers in the solution to apply an electrostatic force on the membrane, which compresses the membrane and causes the actuator to deform. We have used this process to develop a tethered submersible robot that can swim in a tank of saltwater at a maximum measured speed of 9.2 mm/s. Since saltwater serves as the electrode, we overcome buoyancy issues that may be a challenge for pneumatically actuated soft robots and traditional, rigid robotics. This research opens the door to low-power underwater robots for search and rescue and environmental monitoring applications.

Industry Application Area(s)
Control Systems | Materials | Robotics

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