Towards fast, reliable, and manufacturable DEAs: miniaturized motor and Rupert the rolling robot
Dielectric elastomer transducers (DETs) are known for their large strains, low mass and high compliance, making them very attractive for a broad range of applications, from soft robotics to tuneable optics, or energy harvesting. However, 15 years after the first major paper in the field, commercial applications of the technology are still scarce, owing to high driving voltages, short lifetimes, slow response speed, viscoelastic drift, and no optimal solution for the compliant electrodes. At the EPFL's Microsystems for Space Technologies laboratory, we have been working on the miniaturization and manufacturability of DETs for the past 10 years. In the frame of this talk, we present our fabrication processes for high quality thin-_lm silicone membranes, and for patterning compliant electrodes on the sub mm-scale. We use either implantation of gold nano-clusters through a mask, or pad-printing of conductive rubber to precisely shape the electrodes on the dielectric membrane. Our electrodes are compliant, time stable and present strong adhesion to the membrane. The combination of low mechanical- loss elastomers with robust and precisely-defined electrodes allows for the fabrication of very fast actuators that exhibit a long lifetime. We present different applications of our DET fabrication process, such as a soft tuneable lens with a settling time smaller than 175 microseconds, a motor spinning at 1500 rpm, and a self-commutating rolling robot.