Low Voltage Electrohydraulic Actuators for Untethered Robotics

by   Stephan-Daniel Gravert, et al.

Rigid robots can be precise in repetitive tasks but struggle in unstructured environments. Nature's versatility in such environments inspires researchers to develop biomimetic robots that incorporate compliant and contracting artificial muscles. Among the recently proposed artificial muscle technologies, electrohydraulic actuators are promising since they offer comparable performance to mammalian muscles in terms of speed and power density. However, they require high driving voltages and have safety concerns due to exposed electrodes. These high voltages lead to either bulky or inefficient driving electronics that make untethered, high-degree-of-freedom bio-inspired robots difficult to realize. Here, we present low voltage electrohydraulic actuators (LEAs) that match mammalian skeletal muscles in average power density (50.5 W/kg) and peak strain rate (971 percent/s) at a driving voltage of just 1100 V. This driving voltage is approx. 5 - 7 times lower compared to other electrohydraulic actuators using paraelectric dielectrics. Furthermore, LEAs are safe to touch, waterproof, and self-clearing, which makes them easy to implement in wearables and robotics. We characterize, model, and physically validate key performance metrics of the actuator and compare its performance to state-of-the-art electrohydraulic designs. Finally, we demonstrate the utility of our actuators on two muscle-based electrohydraulic robots: an untethered soft robotic swimmer and a robotic gripper. We foresee that LEAs can become a key building block for future highly-biomimetic untethered robots and wearables with many independent artificial muscles such as biomimetic hands, faces, or exoskeletons.


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