Monolithic shape-programmable dielectric liquid crystal elastomer actuators

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Science Advances  22 Nov 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 11, eaay0855
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay0855


Soft robotics may enable many new technologies in which humans and robots physically interact, yet the necessary high-performance soft actuators still do not exist. The optimal soft actuators need to be fast and forceful and have programmable shape changes. Furthermore, they should be energy efficient for untethered applications and easy to fabricate. Here, we combine desirable characteristics from two distinct active material systems: fast and highly efficient actuation from dielectric elastomers and directed shape programmability from liquid crystal elastomers. Via a top-down photoalignment method, we program molecular alignment and localized giant elastic anisotropy into the liquid crystal elastomers. The linearly actuated liquid crystal elastomer monoliths achieve strain rates over 120% per second with an energy conversion efficiency of 20% while moving loads over 700 times the elastomer weight. The electric actuation mechanism offers unprecedented opportunities toward miniaturization with shape programmability, efficiency, and more degrees of freedom for applications in soft robotics and beyond.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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