Electroelastomers: applications of dielectric elastomer transducers for actuation, generation, and smart structures
Electroactive polymers (EAPs) can overcome many limitations of traditional smart material and transducer technologies. A particularly promising class of EAP is dielectric elastomer, also known as electroelastomer. Dielectric elastomer transducers are rubbery polymer materials with compliant electrodes that have a large electromechanical response to an applied electric field. The technology has been developed to the point where exceptional performance has already been demonstrated: for example, actuated strains of over 300 percent. These strains and the corresponding energy densities are beyond those of other field-activated materials including piezoelectrics. Because of their unique characteristics and expected low cost, dielectric elastomer transducers are under development in a wide range of applications including multifunctional (combined actuation, structure, and sensing) muscle-like actuators for biomimetic robots; microelectromechanical systems (MEMS); smart skins; conformal loudspeakers; haptic displays; and replacements for electromagnetic and pneumatic actuators for industrial and commercial applications. Dielectric elastomers have shown unique performance in each of these applications; however, some further development is required before they can be integrated into products and smart-materials systems. Among the many issues that may ultimately determine the success or failure of the technology for specific applications are durability, operating voltage and power requirements, and the size, cost, and complexity of the required electronic driving circuitry.