3D printed electrically-driven soft actuators

Ghazaleh Haghiashtiani, Ed Habtour, Sung-Hyun Park, Frank Gardea, Michael C. McAlpine
  • Extreme Mechanics Letters, May 2018, Elsevier
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.eml.2018.02.002

Fully 3D Printed Soft Actuators and Muscles

What is it about?

The article details the development and modeling of the first uninterrupted fully 3D-printed soft actuator prototype (artificial muscle), which was inspired by soft biological organisms. The soft actuator displays unprecedented deflection motion and lifting power in response to an electrical input. The extraordinary actuation capability is possible because the device architecture consists of active materials (dielectric elastomers) with self-tuning properties. Although the artificial muscle is in its infancy, our hope is that one day, the 3D-printed active materials could augment or replace traditional stiff and rigid robots.

Why is it important?

Inspired by biology, the research is the first step in helping engineers to understand how to design and optimize soft actuators for strength and energy-efficient movement. The actuators are fully 3D-printed, and the models connect nonlinearities at all scales.


ed habtour
US Army Research Laboratory

In the future, the soft actuator could provide Soldiers in close-combat robotic platforms that have enhanced mobility for navigating obstructed terrain, lightweight structures for exoskeletons, and artificial muscles for aircraft wings and helicopter blades. The 3D printing capability was developed at the University of Minnesota (UMn) by Prof. Mike McAlpine’s group with special thanks to Ghazaleh Haghiashtiani, a Ph.D. candidate at UMn, for her significant contributions. I'm grateful for the US Army Research Laboratory Open-Campus for giving me the opportunity to collaborate with UMn and to develop the actuation and optimization models. Additional thanks to Ghazaleh Haghiashtiani for the artwork.

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