Biologically Inspired Electrostatic Artificial Muscles for Insect-sized Robots

    Millimeter-sized electrostatic film actuators, inspired by the efficient spatial arrangement of insect muscles, achieve a muscle-like power density (61 W kg-1) and enable robotic applications in which agility is needed in confined spaces. Like biological muscles, these actuators incorporate a hierarchical structure, in this case building from electrodes to arrays to laminates, and are composed primarily of flexible materials. So comprised, these actuators can be designed for a wide range of manipulation and locomotion tasks, similar to natural muscle, while being robust and compact. A typical actuator can achieve 85 mN of force with a 15 mm stroke, with a size of 28x5.7x0.3 mm3 and mass of 92 mg. Two millimeter-sized robots, an ultra-thin earthworm-inspired robot and an intestinal-muscle-inspired endoscopic tool for tissue resection, demonstrate the utility of these actuators. The earthworm robot undertakes inspection tasks: the navigation of a 5 mm channel and a 19 mm square tube while carrying an on-board camera. The surgical tool, which conforms to the surface of the distal end of an endoscope, similar to the thin, smooth muscle that covers the intestine, completes tissue cutting and penetrating tasks. Beyond these devices, we anticipate widespread use of these actuators in soft robots, medical robots, wearable robots, and miniature autonomous systems.



Hongqiang Wang* , Peter York, Yufeng Chen, Sheila Russo, Tommaso Ranzani, Conor Walsh, and Robert J. Wood*. Biologically-inspired electrostatic artificial muscles for insect-sized robots. The International Journal of Robotics Research , 2021, 40(6-7), pp.895-922.