Torsional Fiber Actuators from Shape-memory Polymer


Humanoid robots, prosthetic limbs and exoskeletons require soft actuators to perform their primary function, which is controlled movement. In this work, we explored whether crosslinked poly[ethylene-co-(vinyl acetate)] (cPEVA) fibers, with different vinyl acetate (VA) content can serve as torsional fiber actuators, exhibiting temperature controlled reversible rotational changes. Broad melting transitions ranging from 50 to 90 °C for cPEVA18-165 or from 40 to 80 °C for cPEVA28-165 fibers in combination with complete crystallization at temperatures around 10 °C make them suitable actuating materials with adjustable actuation temperature ranges between 10 and 70 °C during repetitive cooling and heating. The obtained fibers exhibited a circular cross section with diameters around 0.4±0.1 mm, while a length of 4 cm was employed for the investigation of reversible rotational actuation after programming by twist insertion using 30 complete rotations at a temperature above melting transition. Repetitive heating and cooling between 10 to 60 °C or 70 °C of one-end-tethered programmed fibers revealed reversible rotations and torsional force. During cooling 3±1 complete rotations (Δθr = + 1080±360°) in twisting direction were observed, while 4±1 turns in the opposite direction (Δθr = - 1440±360°) were found during heating. Such torsional fiber actuators, which are capable of approximately one rotation per cm fiber length, can serve as miniaturized rotary motors to provide rotational actuation in futuristic humanoid robots.
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