Based on the concept of Mazzone et al., we have designed a novel system to be used simultaneously as an input and output device for designing, presenting, or recognizing objects in three-dimensional space. Unlike state of the art stereoscopic display technologies that generate a virtual image of a three-dimensional object, the proposed system, a “digital clay” like device, physically imitates the desired object. The object can not only be touched and explored
intuitively but also deform itself physically. In order to succeed in developing such a deformable structure, self-actuating ionic polymer-metal composite (IPMC) materials are proposed. IPMC is a type of electro active polymer (EAP) and has recently been drawing much attention. It has high force to weight ratio and shape flexibility, making it ideal for robotic applications. This paper introduces the first steps and results in the attempt of developing such a structure. A strip consisting of four actuators arranged in line was fabricated and evaluated, showing promising capabilities in deforming two-dimensionally. A simple model to simulate the deformation of an IPMC actuator using finite element methods (FEM) is
also proposed and compared with the experimental results. The model can easily be implemented into computer aided engineering (CAE) software. This will expand the application possibilities of IPMCs. Furthermore, a novel method for creating multiple actuators on one membrane with a laser machining tool is introduced.