artist rendering of artificial muscle on robot frame is by dcldesign.
Electroactive Polymers or EAPs are polymers whose shape is modified when a voltage is applied to them. They can be used as actuators or sensors. As actuators, they are characterized by being able to undergo a large amount of deformation while sustaining large forces. Due to the similarities with biological tissues in terms of achievable stress and force, they are often called artificial muscles, and have the potential for application in the field of robotics, where large linear movement is often needed.
EAP can have several configurations, but are generally divided in two principal classes:
- Dielectric EAPs, in which actuation is caused by electrostatic forces between two electrodes which squeeze the polymer. Dielectric elastomers are capable of very high strains and are fundamentally a capacitor that changes capacitance when voltage is applied by allowing the polymer to compress in thickness and expand in area due to the electric field. This kind of EAP typically requires a large actuation voltage to produce high electric fields (hundreds to thousands of volts), but very low electrical power consumption. Dielectric EAPs require no power to keep the actuator at a given position. Examples are electrostrictive polymers and dielectric elastomers.
- Ionic EAPs, in which actuation is caused by the displacement of ions inside the polymer. Only a few volts are needed for actuation, but the ionic flow implies a higher electrical power needed for actuation, and energy is needed to keep the actuator at a given position. Examples of ionic EAPS are conductive polymers, ionic polymer-metal composites (IPMCs), and responsive gels. Yet another example is a Bucky gel actuator, which is a polymer-supported layer of polyelectrolyte material consisting of an ionic liquid sandwiched between two electrode layers consisting of a gel of ionic liquid containing single-wall carbon nanotubes. The name refers to bucky balls.
Information taken from Wikipedia.
Short YouTube video of a robot torso flexing and using it’s artificial muscles to do dumbbell curls and write “Hello”.