A multistable linear actuation mechanism based on artificial muscles
In this paper, we report on a multistable linear actuation mechanism articulated with electroactive polymer actuators, widely known as artificial muscles. These actuators, which can operate both in wet and dry media under as small as 1.0 V potential difference, are fundamentally cantilever beams made of two electroactive polymer layers (polypyrrole) and a passive polyvinylidene fluoride substrate in between the electroactive layers. The mechanism considered is kinematically analogous to a four-bar mechanism with revolute-prismatic-revolute-prismatic pairs, converting the bending displacement of a polymer actuator into a rectilinear movement of an output point. The topology of the mechanism resembles that of bistable mechanisms operating under the buckling effect. However, the mechanism proposed in this paper can have many stable positions depending on the input voltage. After demonstrating the feasibility of the actuation concept using kinematic and finite element analyses of the mechanism, experiments were conducted on a real mechanism articulated with a multiple number (2, 4, or 8) of electroactive polymer actuators, which had dimensions of 12×2×0.17 mm3. The numerical and experimental results demonstrate that the angular displacement of the artificial muscles is accurately transformed into a rectilinear motion by the proposed mechanism. The higher the input voltage, the larger the rectilinear displacement. This study suggests that this multistable linear actuation mechanism can be used as a programmable switch and/or a pump in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) by adjusting the input voltage and scaling down the mechanism further.