Artificial muscles with adjustable stiffness
This paper reports on a stiffness enhancement methodology based on using a suitably designed contact surface with which cantilevered-type conducting polymer bending actuators are in contact during operation. The contact surface constrains the bending behaviour of the actuators. Depending on the topology of the contact surface, the resistance of the polymer actuators to deformation, i.e. stiffness, is varied. As opposed to their predecessors, these polymer actuators operate in air. Finite element analysis and modelling are used to quantify the effect of the contact surface on the effective stiffness of a trilayer cantilevered beam, which represents a one-end-free, the-other-end-fixed polypyrrole (PPy) conducting polymer actuator under a uniformly distributed load. After demonstrating the feasibility of the adjustable stiffness concept, experiments were conducted to determine the stiffness of bending-type conducting polymer actuators in contact with a range (20–40 mm in radius) of circular contact surfaces. The numerical and experimental results presented demonstrate that the stiffness of the actuators can be varied using a suitably profiled contact surface. The larger the radius of the contact surface is, the higher is the stiffness of the polymer actuators. The outcomes of this study suggest that, although the stiffness of the artificial muscles considered in this study is constant for a given geometric size, and electrical and chemical operation conditions, it can be changed in a nonlinear fashion to suit the stiffness requirement of a considered application. The stiffness enhancement methodology can be extended to other ionic-type conducting polymer actuators.