Advancements in software engineering have enabled the robotics industry to transition from the use of giant industrial robots to more friendly humanoid robots. Soft robotics is one of the key elements needed to advance the transition process by providing a safer way for robots to interact with the environment. Electroactive polymers (EAPs) are one of the best candidate materials for the next generation of soft robotic actuators and artificial muscles. Lightweight dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) provide optimal properties such as high elasticity, rapid response rates, mechanical robustness and compliance. However, for DEAs to become widely used as artificial muscles or soft actuators, there are current limitations, such as high actuation voltage requirements, control of actuation direction, and scaling, that need to be addressed.

This study presents a novel approach inspired by the natural skeletal muscles to overcome the drawbacks of conventional DEAs. Instead of fabricating a large DEA device, smaller sub-units can be fabricated and bundled together to form larger actuators, similar to the way myofibrils form myocytes in skeletal muscles. Soft lithography and other microfabrication techniques were utilized to allow fabrication of silicone based multilayer stacked DEA structures, composed of hundreds of micro-sized DEA units with mechanically compliant electrodes. Experiments show that free-standing multilayer DEA structures can be fabricated using existing microfabrication tools. Three fabrication approaches, using spin coating, film casting and injection molding were evaluated to improve the repeatability of the fabrication process. Multi-layer DEA fibers can be actuated in sub-kV range while maintaining actuation ratio above 5%.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Lithography; Robotics; Dielectric devices; Actuators--Materials

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Microsystems Engineering (Ph.D.)

Department, Program, or Center

Microsystems Engineering (KGCOE)


Kathleen Lamkin-Kennard

Advisor/Committee Member

Karl Hirschman

Advisor/Committee Member

Thomas W. Smith


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes