The underlying theory of a new actuator concept based on hydrogel core flexible matrix composites (H-FMC) is presented. The key principle that underlines the H-FMC actuator operation is that the three-dimensional swelling of a hydrogel is partially constrained in order to improve the amount of useful work done. The partial constraint is applied to the hydrogel by a flexible matrix composite (FMC) that minimizes the hydrogels volume expansion while swelling. This constraint serves to maximize the fixed charge density and resulting osmotic pressure, the driving force behind actuation. In addition, for certain FMC fibre orientations the Poissons ratio of the anisotropic FMC laminate converts previously unused hydrogel swelling in the radial and circumferential directions into useful axial strains. The potential benefit of the H-FMC concept to hydrogel actuator performance is shown through comparison of force-stroke curves and evaluation of improvements in useful actuation work. The model used to achieve this couples chemical and electrical components, represented with the Nernst-Plank and Poisson equations, as well as a linear elastic mechanical material model, encompassing limited geometric nonlinearities. It is found that improvements in useful actuation work in the order of 1500% over bare hydrogel performance are achieved by the H-FMC concept. A parametric study is also undertaken to determine the effect of various FMC design parameters on actuator free strain and blocking stress. A comparison to other actuator concepts is also included.

Original languageEnglish
Article number095021
JournalSmart Materials and Structures
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

Structured keywords

  • Tactile Action Perception


  • artificial muscle
  • chemomechanical
  • force-stroke curves


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