Improved Performance in Temperature and Speed of TCP Artificial Muscles for Soft Wearables Robots by Length Modification
Artificial muscles provide a unique solution for wearable rehabilitation robots (WRRs) because they are compliant, compact, and lightweight. Twisted and coiled polymer actuators (TCPs) are artificial muscles from thermally activated polymer fibres. They present high power density, linearity, stress and strain compared to other artificial muscles. Nevertheless, as TCPs require heat to start, their main barrier for widespread use in WRRs are their slow reaction times and the high temperatures they reach. Previous studies have analysed different parameters, like fibre material, fibre diameter, and various cooling systems, to improve TCP frequency response and working temperature. Nevertheless, the length of the actuator has not been explored as a possible parameter to enhance the actuation performance in this regard.
This work focuses on studying the behaviour of TCPs with different lengths and how the performance in frequency response and temperature can be improved using the length as a primary parameter, as they are critical for wearable robots. First, a characterisation of the TCPs was performed. Then, a method to improve frequency response, based on offsets on long actuators was implemented and validated using a chirp signal. The experimental results show that the mechanical characteristics are similar regardless of the actuator’s length. They reached a strain of 10 % with a power of 0.16 W/cm. However, the electrothermal properties changed as the power needed to increase temperature was higher when the actuator was enlarged. Therefore, an improvement in the required temperature was found, able to reduce the temperature with the same frequency response. Regarding the technique to enhance the speed of the actuator, it was possible to increase the frequency by 0.0006 Hz for each mm applied as an offset. Hence, the frequency response for the same displacement was increased linearly as the actuator was elongated.