Date of Award

7-2021

Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Aerospace Engineering

Department

Aerospace Engineering

Committee Chair

Dr. Daewon Kim

First Committee Member

Dr. Marwan Al-Haik

Second Committee Member

Dr. Sirish Namilae

Third Committee Member

Dr. Mandar Kulkarni

Fourth Committee Member

Dr. Eduardo Rojas

Fifth Committee Member

Dr. Foram Madiyar

Abstract

The recently emerging and actively growing areas of soft robotics and morphing structures promise endless opportunities in a wide range of engineering fields, including biomedical, industrial, and aerospace. Soft actuators and sensors are essential components of any soft robot or morphing structure. Among the utilized materials, dielectric elastomers (DEs) are intrinsically compliant, high energy density polymers with fast and reversible electromechanical response. Additionally, the electrically driven work principle allows DEs to be distributed in a desired fashion and function locally with minimum interference. Thus, a great effort is being made towards utilizing additive manufacturing (AM) technologies to fully realize the potential of DE soft actuators and sensors. While soft sensors have received more attention and development due to their simpler implementation, DE actuators (DEAs) set stricter AM and electrode material requirements. DEAs’ layered structure, compliant nature, and susceptibility to various defects make their manufacturability challenging, especially for non-trivial biomimetic soft robotics geometries. This dissertation comprehensively analyzes DE materials’ transition into a soft actuator using AM to facilitate effective DEA soft actuator fabrication. Closely interrelated fabrication techniques, material properties, and DEA geometries are analyzed to establish a fundamental understanding of how to implement high-quality DEA soft actuators. Furthermore, great attention is paid to enhancing the performance of printed DEAs through developing printable elastomer and electrode materials with improved properties. Lastly, performance enhancement is approached from the design point of view by developing a novel 3D printable DEA configuration that actuates out-of-plane without stiffening elements.

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