Increasing numbers of robots are required to interact securely with humans, manage soft and fragile things, or navigate in challenging locations. Since compliant robots can withstand considerable deformation while preserving structural compliance, they may be safely operated alongside people, adapting to many different conditions, making soft robotics a fast-growing subject.
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Electroactive polymers (EAPs) are smart soft materials that may change their structure and size in response to electrical impulses. Actuators, sensors, and system structure may all be integrated into a single topology with their help, increasing the interest in Ionic EAPs and dielectric elastomer actuators (EAPs).
What are Electroactive Polymers?
Electrical stimulation causes substantial displacement in electroactive polymers and are referred to as "artificial muscles". EAP materials' resilience and force are still being improved, although several notable accomplishments have already been made. Successful demonstrations include a catheter steering element, a small manipulator, a dust wiper, a miniature robotic arm, and grippers.
When exposed to a strong electric field, these polymers can change their size, shape, or volume. Because of their high active deformation potential, fast reaction time, low density, and enhanced resilience in the active materials sector, including shape memory alloys, piezoelectric, magnetostrictive materials and polymers, electroactive polymers stand out. Light, affordable, fracturing-resistant, and flexible are only some of the advantages of this material.
Introduction to Soft Robotics:
The subclass of robotics known as "soft" focuses on technologies with physical features closer to those of a biological system than those of mechanical systems. As a sort of biomimicry, experts define the soft robotics approach as a replacement for the linear and rather stiff parts of robotics with more nuanced models that mimic human, animal, and plant life.
It is the goal of the soft robotics movement to create a new type of robotics that mimics the way organic humans, animals, and plants behave. For example, instead of a hard metal surface, the fabrication of a surface made up of small metal components that can move like human skin is an important feature of soft robotics.
Electroactive Polymers in Soft Robotics
The compactness, compliance, simplicity of manufacture, and suitability for downsizing, has allowed soft robotics system to attain significant importance. Given their similarity to genuine muscles, several materials utilized to create artificial muscles display natural muscle-like properties.
As the most popular artificial muscles, EAP actuators are preferred over other actuators that are being made with smart materials.
Advantages include the ability to manufacture in nano- and microscale, low energy consumption, and higher force output as compared to weight, and their ability to operate silently and in different environments such as air and water.
The natural muscle-like operating principles of the actuators make them ideal for biologically-inspired robotics projects. Swimming robots propelled by their caudal fin were created using EAP actuators, which were inspired by the aquatic movements of fish.
What Benefits can Electroactive Polymers Bring to Soft Robotics:
Academic and industrial research in soft robotics is on the rise. When it comes to industrial and service robots, there has been an ongoing transition away from traditional assembly lines to more flexible ones.
Developing materials, techniques, and components that are soft is essential to the widespread usage of soft, collaborative robots. Sensors, actuators, signal processors, and the robot's structure may all be modeled after these types of sub-components.
Scientists have been working on soft, flexible, but electrically controllable sensors and actuators since the invention of the 'octobot'. Electroactive polymers, in particular dielectric elastomers, fall within this category.
References and Further Reading
Bar-Cohen, Y. (2002). Electroactive Polymers as Artificial Muscles: A Review. Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets. https://www.witpress.com/Secure/elibrary/papers/9781853129414/9781853129414004FU1.pdf
Bar-Cohen, Y. (2004). Electroactive Polymer (EAP) Actuators as Artificial Muscles: Reality, Potential, and Challenges. SPIE. https://doi.org/10.1117/3.547465
Guoying Gu, H. S. (2021). Soft Robotics based on Electroactive Polymers. Frontiers in AI and Robotics. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frobt.2021.676406/full
Kretzer, M. (2013). MATERIABILITY. Retrieved from Electroactive Polymers. https://materiability.com/portfolio/electroactive-polymers/
Rahim Mutlu, G. A. (2013). Electroactive polymers as soft robotic actuators: electromechanical modeling and identification. https://ro.uow.edu.au/eispapers/1258/
RON PELRINE, R. K. (2000). High-Speed Electrically Actuated Elastomers with Strain Greater Than 100%. Science, 836-839. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.287.5454.836
Sareh, S. &. (2013). Kirigami artificial muscles with complex biologically inspired morphologies. Smart Materials and Structures. https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/publications/kirigami-artificial-muscles-with-complex-biologically-inspired-mo