Conventional robots usually consist of heavy and rigid components, such as motors, gearboxes, and linkages, that are made of high-density materials. Although they can perform complex movements and processes, they are typically not able to perform movements similar to those of biological models. Entirely soft robots with animal-like behaviour will open up totally new perspectives and applications. The MEiTNER project will investigate multifunctional dielectric elastomers, so-called artificial muscles. The aim is to equip these dielectric elastomers with inherent signal-processing capabilities in form of dielectric elastomer electronics, only made of polymer materials and carbon. This will enable a totally new class of soft electronics, controlling autonomous, entirely soft robots, without the need of conventional, stiff silicon-based controllers.
Novel soft DE-electronics will be integrated onto dielectric elastomer membranes using compliant electrodes with different electrical properties, such as resistance, capacitance and percolation. All these components will consist only of mixtures of polymers and conductive fillers. To validate functionality of developed processes and subcomponents, there will be investigations in advancing soft biomimetic robotics in general to demonstrate the potential of multifunctional DEs. Those robotic structures will be based on compliant mechanical structures, having distributed dielectric sensor-, actuator- and signal-processing nodes embedded throughout their entire structure.
We will investigate biomimetic approaches for several tasks such as locomotion, wing-flapping or under-water propulsion and related interfaces to the environment such as direction friction or electrostiction structures. In a second research direction we will investigate human-machine interfacing in collaborative robotics, industrial and medical applications. The technologies and DE electronics and software design tools, developed in FAB-1, shall be used to investigate prospects for soft, multi-functional structures that shall serve as compliant interfaces for machine operators, medical products and industrial applications such as soft robotic grippers.