Date of Award

Fall 2021

Access Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering


Mechanical Engineering

Committee Chair

Eduardo Divo, Ph.D.

First Committee Member

Daewon Kim, Ph.D.

Second Committee Member

Eric J Coyle, Ph.D.

Third Committee Member

Christopher J Hockley, Ph.D.

Fourth Committee Member

Houbing Song, Ph.D.


Dielectric elastomers actuators (DEAs) are among the preferred materials for developing lightweight, high compliance and energy efficient driven mechanisms for soft robots. Simple DEAs consist mostly of a homogeneous elastomeric materials that transduce electrical energy into mechanical deformation by means of electrostatic attraction forces from coated electrodes. Furthermore, stacking multiple single DEAs can escalate the total mechanical displacement performed by the actuator, such is the case of multilayer DEAs. The presented research proposes a model for the dynamical characterization of multilayer DEAs in the mechanical and electrical domain. The analytical model is derived by using free body diagrams and lumped parameters that recreate an analogous system representing the multiphysics dynamics within the DEA. Hyperelasticity in most elastomeric materials is characterized by a nonlinear spring capable of undergoing large deformation; thus, defining the isostatic nonlinear relationship between stress and stretch. The transient response is added by employing the generalize Kelvin-Maxwell elements model of viscoelasticity in parallel with the hyperplastic spring. The electrostatic pressure applied by the electrodes appears as an external mechanical pressure that compress the material; thus, representing the bridge between the electrical and mechanical domain. Moreover, DEAs can be represented as compliant capacitors that change their capacitance as it keeps deforming; consequently, this feature can be used for purposes of self-sensing since there is always a capacitance value that can be mapped into the actual displacement. Therefore, an analytical model of an equivalent circuit of the actuator is also derived to analyze the changes in the capacitance while the actuator is under duty.

The models presented analytically are then cross-validated by finite element methods using COMSOL Multiphysics® as the software tool. The results from both models, the analytical and FEM model, were compared by virtually recreating the dynamics of a multilayer DEA with general circular cross section and material parameters from VHB4905 3M commercially available tape. Furthermore, this research takes the general dynamical framework built for DEAs and expand it to model the dynamical system for helical dielectric elastomer actuators (HDEAs) which is a novel configuration of the classical stack that increases the nonlinearity of the system. Finally, this research present a complementary study on enhancing the dielectric permittivity for DEAs, which is an electrical material property that can be optimized to improve the relationship between voltage applied and deformation of the actuator.