Strong Reliable Electrostatic Actuation Based on Self-Clearing Using a Thin Conductive Layer

    Electrostatic adhesion, as a promising actuation technique for soft robotics, severely suffers from the failure caused by the unpredictable electrical breakdown. This study proposes a novel self-clearing mechanism for electrostatic actuators, particularly for electrostatic adhesion. By simply employing an enough thin conductive layer (e.g., < 7 μm for copper), this method can spontaneously clear the conductor around the breakdown sites effectively once breakdowns onset and survive the actuator shortly after the electrical damage. Compared with previous self-clearing methods, which typically rely on new specific materials, this mechanism is easy to operate and compatible with various materials and fabrication processes. In our tests, it can improve the maximum available voltage by 260% and the maximum electrostatic adhesive force by 276%. In addition, the robustness and repeatability of the self-clearing mechanism are validated by surviving consecutive breakdowns and self-clearing of 173 times during 65 min. This method is also demonstrated to be capable of recovering the electrostatic pad from severe physical damages such as punctures, penetrations, and cuttings successfully and enabling stable and reliable operation of the electrostatic clutch, or gripping, for example, even after the short-circuit takes place for hundreds of times. Therefore, the proposed self-clearing method sheds new light on high performance and more extensive practical applications of electrostatic actuators in the future.



Guoyong Xie†, Dongliang Fan†, Huacen Wang, Renjie Zhu, Jianjun Mao, and Hongqiang Wang*. Strong Reliable Electrostatic Actuation Based on Self-Clearing Using a Thin Conductive Layer. Soft Robotics , Early Access.