Bistable electroactive polymers (BSEP) usually exhibit glass transition that spans a rather broad temperature range and are normally actuated above 70 °C. High actuation temperature limits the BSEP for wearable and personal assistive applications. A phase-changing polymer is synthesized and employed as BSEP having a narrow rigid-to-rubbery transition temperature range. Shape memory effect with both fixation and recovery rate close to 100% was observed. Diaphragm actuators of the BSEP can be electrically actuated at 50 °C up to 70% strain, and the deformed shape was fixed after cooling the BSEP below the transition temperature. The rigid-to-rigid actuation can be repeated for at least 10,000 cycles.
ABSTRACT: Bistable electroactive polymers (BSEP) amalgamating electrically induced large-strain actuation and shape memory effect present a unique opportunity for refreshable Braille displays. A new BSEP material with long-chain crosslinkers to achieve prolonged cycle lifetime of refreshable Braille displays is reported here. The modulus of the BSEP material decreases by more than three orders of magnitude from a rigid, plastic state to a rubbery state when heated above the polymer’s glass transition temperature. In its rubbery state, the polymer film can be electrically actuated to buckle convexly when a high voltage is applied across a circular active area. Modifying the concentration of long-chain crosslinkers in the polymer allows not only for fine-tuning of the polymer’s glass transition temperature and elasticity in the rubbery state, but also enhancement of the actuation stability. For a raised height of 0.4 mm by a Braille dot with a 1.3 mm diameter, actuation can be repeated over 2000 cycles at 70°C in the rubbery state. The actuated dome shape can be fixed by cooling the polymer below the glass transition temperature. This refreshable rigid-to-rigid actuation simultaneously provides large-strain actuation and large force support. Devices capable of displaying Braille characters over a page-size area consisting of 324 Braille cells have been fabricated.