Maximizing strain in miniaturized dielectric elastomer actuators
We present a theoretical model to optimise the unidirectional motion of a rigid object bonded to a miniaturized dielectric elastomer actuator (DEA), a configuration found for example in AMI’s haptic feedback devices, or in our tuneable RF phase shifter. Recent work has shown that unidirectional motion is maximized when the membrane is both anistropically prestretched and subjected to a dead load in the direction of actuation. However, the use of dead weights for miniaturized devices is clearly highly impractical. Consequently smaller devices use the membrane itself to generate the opposing force. Since the membrane covers the entire frame, one has the same prestretch condition in the active (actuated) and passive zones. Because the passive zone contracts when the active zone expands, it does not provide a constant restoring force, reducing the maximum achievable actuation strain. We have determined the optimal ratio between the size of the electrode (active zone) and the passive zone, as well as the optimal prestretch in both in-plane directions, in order to maximize the absolute displacement of the rigid object placed at the active/passive border. Our model and experiments show that the ideal active ratio is 50%, with a displacement twice smaller than what can be obtained with a dead load. We expand our fabrication process to also show how DEAs can be laser-post-processed to remove carefully chosen regions of the passive elastomer membrane, thereby increasing the actuation strain of the device.