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Title: Mechanical Simplification of Variable-Stiffness Actuators Using Dielectric Elastomer Transducers
Legged and gait-assistance robots can walk more efficiently if their actuators are compliant. The adjustable compliance of variable-stiffness actuators (VSAs) can enhance this benefit. However, this functionality requires additional mechanical components making VSAs impractical for some uses due to increased weight, volume, and cost. VSAs would be more practical if they could modulate the stiffness of their springs without additional components, which usually include moving parts and an additional motor. Therefore, we designed a VSA that uses dielectric elastomer transducers (DETs) for springs. It does not need mechanical stiffness-adjusting components because DETs soften due to electrostatic forces. This paper presents details and performance of our design. Our DET VSA demonstrated independent modulation of its equilibrium position and stiffness. Our design approach could make it practical to obtain the benefits of variable-stiffness actuation with less weight, volume, and cost than normally accompanies them, once weaknesses of DET technology are addressed.
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