New Shape-Changing Materials Come to Life Using Artificial Muscles

Electriflow is a new class of soft electrohydraulic actuators as building blocks for prototyping shape-changing interfaces.

Cabe Atwell
2 months agoRobotics

Researchers from CU Boulder’s ATLAS Institute are looking to advance soft robotics by developing shape-changing materials that use artificial muscles for actuation. The team demonstrated the ability of their artificial muscles by creating “Electriflow” origami cranes that could bend their necks, fluttering insects, and flower petals that could wiggle. Imagine reading storybooks where robotic butterflies fly about from the pages or fields of grass, swaying back and forth as story characters travel to distant lands, and you get the idea.

Those Electriflow designs don’t require motors or other traditional electronic parts, but rather artificial muscles that take advantage of HASEL (Hydraulically Amplified Self-Healing Electrostatic) technology, which gets their power from fluid. In this case, that fluid is oil, which is encapsulated in plastic pouches and uses electrostatic forces to move them around. Changing the shape of those pouches can generate different kinds of movements. Think of it like squeezing a packet of ketchup, where one side expands when the opposite side is compressed.

Electriflow designs utilize different-shaped pouches to create origami-like folds in flat polymer sheeting. The actuation force is also incredibly fast as the researchers clocked their butterfly wings flapping at about 25 beats per second, faster than most real butterflies. “This system is very close to what we see in nature,” stated CU grad student Purnendu. “We’re pushing the boundaries of how humans and machines can interact.”

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