Electroactive polymer actuators as artificial muscles: Are they ready for bioinspired applications?
Electroactive polymer (EAP) actuators are electrically responsive materials that have several characteristics in common with natural muscles. Thus, they are being studied as 'artificial muscles' for a variety of biomimetic motion applications. EAP materials are commonly classified into two major families: ionic EAPs, activated by an electrically induced transport of ions and/or solvent, and electronic EAPs, activated by electrostatic forces. Although several EAP materials and their properties have been known for many decades, they have found very limited applications. Such a trend has changed recently as a result of an effective synergy of at least three main factors: key scientific breakthroughs being achieved in some of the existing EAP technologies; unprecedented electromechanical properties being discovered in materials previously developed for different purposes; and higher concentration of efforts for industrial exploitation. As an outcome, after several years of basic research, today the EAP field is just starting to undergo transition from academia into commercialization, with significant investments from large companies. This paper presents a brief overview on the full range of EAP actuator types and the most significant areas of interest for applications. It is hoped that this overview can instruct the reader on how EAPs can enable bioinspired motion systems.