A major challenge in soft robotics and in haptics is the control of a large number of compliant actuators (e.g., a many jointed gripper, or a Braille display). Dielectric Elastomer Actuators (DEAs) offer larger strain and high energy density, but require generally 1 kV or more for actuation. Controlling many DEAs thus requires complex or bulky electronics as many kV channels are needed.
We have solved this control problem by developing TFTs (thin film transistors) that operate at 1 kV. By integrating an array of 1 kV TFTs with an array of DEAs, we have made a flexible array of 16 DEAs, operating with only one single HV power supply, and where each DEA is individually switched using a 30V signal applied to the gate of its TFT.
This approach of flexible metal-oxide HVTFTs enables complex flexible systems with dozens to hundreds of independent DEAs for applications in haptics, Braille displays, and soft robotics.
More information can be found in our publication: “Flexible Zinc–Tin Oxide Thin Film Transistors Operating at 1 kV for Integrated Switching of Dielectric Elastomer Actuators Arrays” by A. Marette et al, in Advanced Materials 2017.
research funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation