Title: "Electrosoft: Soft Electrostatic Technologies for Cutaneous Interaction"
Abstract: Traditional robots use rigid materials that allow precise fabrication and control. In contrast, soft robots have drawn considerable attention in recent years because they are inherently safe for human interaction. Although it is more difficult for soft robots to achieve large forces or precise motion control, they outperform traditional robots in certain criteria like being lightweight, human safe, and suitable for handheld or wearable devices. Therefore, many researchers have focused on these aspects and have developed soft, small, and lightweight actuators. However, this field still faces challenges in providing enough displacement and force in a compact package and in reducing power consumption. Electrostatic actuation is a promising solution for achieving compactness and low power consumption in soft robots. This combination of electrostatic actuation and soft robotic structures underlies the work presented in this talk, which has applications in cutaneous interaction for humans and robots, namely haptics and gripping. For haptic display, the main challenges include miniaturization and obtaining adequate bandwidth to display stimuli of interest. I present two different haptic devices that take advantage of the unique capabilities of soft electrostatic actuators. First, I present a stackable electroactive polymer (EAP) actuator designed to actuate a small handheld haptic device. This device communicates needle tip forces to physicians during teleoperated image-guided needle interventions. Second, I designed a miniature dielectric fluid transducer (DFT) that has a large strain and fast response. The actuators can be packed closely and controlled individually to create dynamic texture displays, suitable for active surface exploration with fingertips. In soft gripping, a challenge is to find ways to enhance adhesion, which depends on the area of contact between gripping surfaces. In this application I again present designs that combine soft robotics and electrostatic actuation to achieve a synergistic effect. I present electrostatic gecko-inspired dry adhesive robotic end-effectors, particularly for two-armed mobile robots, to minimize their force and power consumption, and expand their ability to handle bulky objects. In summary, I present soft electrostatic technologies that are compact, lightweight, and have low power consumption. A variety of actuators were designed to overcome specific challenges in haptics and gripping.