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Making Smarter Artificial Muscles

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Dielectric elastomers and ionic polymer actuators are the most common classes of soft artificial muscles. We improve critical aspects of both by making the first more reliable, and the second smarter.

Dielectric elastomers operate at high voltages, produces impressive strains and has been used in applications from energy harvesting to transparent loudspeakers. Though they achieves high efficiency both on the material and system levels, this performance comes at the price of a short, unreliable life. We show how one can overcome the false dichotomy of trading efficiency for reliability.

Ionic actuators have already been shown to display life-like movement using very low voltages (1-2V). These materials have the potential for driving implantable devices. In an effort to make their behaviour even smarter, we endow them with memory for the first time, creating artificial muscles with muscle memory. The ionic actuation response can be tuned or completely switched off by a mechanical programming, in a reversible fashion, without the use of electronics. The new materials can have their movement programmed in several states, report their environmental history and recall previous actuator states.

1. Kobayashi, Smoukov, Int. J. Smart & Nano Mater. (2014) DOI : 10.1080/19475411.2014.987190

2. Khaldi, Elliott, Smoukov, J. MATER . CHEM. C., 2, 8029 (2014)

This talk is part of the Darwin College Science Seminars series.

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