Artificial muscle actuators in biorobotic fish fins.
Conducting polymer actuators based on polypyrrole are being developed for use in biorobotic fins that are designed to create and control forces like the pectoral fin of the bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus). It is envisioned that trilayer bending actuators will be used within, and as, the fin's webbing to create a highly controllable, shape morphing, flexible fin surface, and that linear conducting polymer actuators will be used to actuate the bases of the fin's fin-rays, like an agonist-antagonist muscle pair, and control the fin's stiffness. For this application, trilayer bending actuators were used successfully to reproduce the cupping motion of the sunfish pectoral fin by controlling the curvature of the fin's surface and the motion of its dorsal and ventral edges. However, the speed of these large polymer films was slow, and must be increased if the fin's shape is to be modulated synchronously with the fin's flapping motion. Free standing linear conducting polymer films can generate large stresses and strains, but there are many engineering obstacles that must be resolved in order to create linear polymer actuators that generate simultaneously the forces, displacements and actuation rates required by the fin. We present two approaches that are being used to solve the engineering challenges involved in utilizing conducting polymer linear actuators: the manufacture of long, uniform ribbons of polymer and gold film, and the parallel actuation of multiple conducting polymer films.