Wearable assistive devices are the future of rehabilitation therapy and bionic limb technologies. Traditional electric, hydraulic, and pneumatic actuators can provide the precise and powerful around-the-clock assistance that therapists cannot deliver. However, they do so in the confines of highly controlled factory environments, resulting in actuators too rigid, heavy, and immobile for wearable applications. In contrast, biological skeletal muscles have been designed and proven in the uncertainty of the real world. Bioinspired artificial muscle actuators aim to mimic the soft, slim, and self-sensing abilities of natural muscle that make them tough and intelligent. Fluidic artificial muscles are a promising wearable assistive actuation candidate, sharing the high-force, inherent compliance of their natural counterparts. Until now, they have not been able to self-sense their length, pressure, and force in an entirely soft and flexible system. Their use of rigid components has previously been a requirement for the generation of large forces, but reduces their reliability and compromises their ability to be comfortably worn. We present the unobtrusive integration of dielectric elastomer (DE) strain and pressure sensors into a soft Peano fluidic muscle, a planar alternative to the relatively bulky McKibben muscle. Characterization of these DE sensors shows they can measure the full operating range of the Peano muscle: strains of around 18% and pressures up to 400 kPa with changes in capacitance of 2.4 and 10.5 pF respectively. This is a step towards proprioceptive artificial muscles, paving the way for wearable actuation that can truly feel its environment.
Allan Joshua Veale, Iain A. Anderson, and Sheng Q. Xie, "Dielectric elastomer strain and pressure sensing enable reactive soft fluidic muscles," Proc. SPIE 9798, Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices (EAPAD) 2016, 97982A (Presented at SPIE Smart Structures and Materials + Nondestructive Evaluation and Health Monitoring: March 24, 2016; Published: 15 April 2016); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2218225.
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