PerspectiveMaterials Science

A Clear Advance in Soft Actuators

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Science  30 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6149, pp. 968-969
DOI: 10.1126/science.1243314

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Development of actuator technologies with capabilities that can match or exceed those found in biology represents a topic of long-standing interest within the advanced robotics community. One promising and remarkably simple class of such an “artificial muscle” exploits a dielectric elastomer (an electrical insulator) sandwiched between a pair of mechanically compliant electrodes (1, 2). Electrostatic force generated by an applied voltage deforms the dielectric and causes rapid, controlled displacements with large amplitudes. On page 984 of this issue, Keplinger et al. (3) describe an important advance in this dielectric elastomer actuator (DEA) technology, in which the authors replace the electrodes with soft, ionic hydrogels. The result provides a clever solution to a daunting materials challenge; it enables delivery of high voltages for fast, effective operation without any mechanical constraint on the motions of the dielectric, in a form that also provides almost perfect optical transparency.