Integration and Coupling of High Performance Dielectric Elastomer Actuator Systems

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Dielectric Elastomer Actuators (DEAs) are a novel soft actuator technology which has been shown to be highly efficient, fast acting, proprioceptive and soft. These actuators have been investigated for their impressive performance, but they do have significant drawbacks due to their high voltage operation, failure modes and high stress concentrations around soft-rigid couplings.

This thesis presents three main areas of research into DEAs to enhance their material coupling and integration into practical applications by maximising performance through innovative design concepts, and implementation optimisation.

A novel method of creating multi-layer actuators is presented where laminated dielectric and conductive layers form an inter-penetrating network with captured strain energy. A proof-of-principle DEA demonstrator produced active strain comparable to mammalian muscle.

A new design space is explored to conceive a mechanically coupled DEA that produces a stiff actuation output from a soft actuator. This mitigates key risks of failure of DEAs. The design space includes potential for development of rotational and linear drives and a proof-of-concept multi-state actuator implementation is characterised.

DEAs exhibit self-sensing capability, however high resolution sensing is difficult to implement. An innovative approach for sensing coupling DEA actuation with a soft optical touch sensor is presented. This active-touch system is demonstrated using a palpating coupled module to detect objects.

This thesis has shown high performance DEAs can be integrated and coupled into rigid and soft systems, producing state of art actuators and sensing. Additionally this work demonstrates that the high performance characteristics implemented in thin-film actuator, can be captured in a scaled-up multi-layer actuator through novel bonding, prestrain and lamination methods.
Date of Award7 May 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorJonathan M Rossiter (Supervisor) & Andrew T Conn (Supervisor)

Cite this