Bistable electroactive polymers (BSEP) combine shape memory with large-strain actuation at the rubbery state to achieve rigid-to-rigid actuation. The stiffness of the BSEP is tunable via glass transition or phase changing. The reversible melting-crystallization of the polymer chains in the phase changing BSEP contributes to the stiffness change within a narrow temperature range. A modulus change of more than 1000 folds can be achieved within 3 °C. Additionally, large actuation strains rivaling those of VHB acrylic elastomers can be obtained at the rubbery state. Explorations regarding potential applications of this material have been focused on tactile displays. In one design, Joule heating of a serpentine-shaped compliant electrode coated on a BSEP film, coupled with a pneumatic pressure source has been employed to raise diaphragm dots with 1.5 mm base diameter to heights up to 0.7 mm. The resulting Braille electronic readers could thus be actuated with low voltages.
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.