Shape-programmable dielectric liquid crystal elastomer actuators | 7/10/2019 | Staff
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Materials scientists aim to use bioinspired soft robots to carry out advanced interactions between humans and robots, but the associated technology remains to be developed. For example, soft actuators must perform quickly with force to deliver programmable shape changes and the devices should be easy to fabricate and energy efficient for untethered applications. In a new report on Science Advances, Zoey S. Davidson and an interdisciplinary research team in the departments of Physical Intelligence, Materials Science and Engineering, and the School of Medicine in Germany, U.S. and Turkey, combined several characteristics of interest using two distinct active materials systems to build soft robots.

The scientists integrated fast and highly efficient actuation with dielectric elastomers (DE) and directed shape programmability using liquid crystal elastomers (LCE). Using topdown photoalignment techniques, they then programmed molecular alignment and localized giant elastic anisotropy into the liquid crystal elastomers. The researchers developed linear actuated liquid crystal elastomer monoliths with strain rates above 120 percent, per second, and an energy conversion efficiency of 20 percent when moving loads above 700 times the weight of the elastomer. The mechanism will allow new research opportunities in miniaturized shape programmability and efficiency alongside increased degrees of freedom for applications in soft robotics in multidisciplinary research.

Robotics - Researchers - Actuators - Key - Interfaces

Material robotics researchers consider compliant actuators to be the missing key to form efficient human and robot interfaces. Compliant soft actuators will ideally be highly efficient, maintain strength-to-weight ratio, work capacity and shape programmability to complete complex functions. Soft actuators with such properties will perform much like an artificial muscle with advanced applications in aerospace, robotics, medical devices, energy harvesting devices and in wearables. Among the varieties of soft actuators explored, dielectric elastomers (DEs) are the most promising. In parallel, liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs) can undergo reversible mechanical deformation using light and thermal actuation near phase transition...
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