Soft Actuator and Robot

Sponsored by: Facebook, NSF

We are building a flexible electrostatic actuator for use in fitness wearables and other haptic devices. When a voltage is applied, bent and buckled films move or vibrate with the signal, generating perceptible displacement.

We simulate and prototype new devices before conducting user studies with real people to see how the actuators feel on the skin. These are simulation results showing the characteristic motion of the devices.

One of the eventual goals of the research is to build a working transducer matrix, in which each element can move or vibrate independently. This allows for more information to be transmitted to the skin and for higher resolution signals to be transduced.

In this work, we have designed, prototyped, and tested a thin-film-based flexible robot that simply use electrostatic force to overcome these drawbacks. The development of such small, lightweight flexible soft robotics will enable tasks such as surveillance, search-and-rescue, and detection that are challenging if not impossible for traditional robots in a cost-effective manner.

This work is highlighted in the journal Advanced Intelligent Systems volume 2 issue 3 cover and in Advanced Science News: A resilient robotic bug (


Jin, C., Zhang, J., Xu, Z., Trase, I., Huang, S., Dong, L., Liu, Z., Usherwood, S.E., Zhang, J.X.J. and Chen, Z. (2020), Tunable, Flexible, and Resilient Robots Driven by an Electrostatic Actuator. Adv. Intell. Syst., 2: 2070030. doi:10.1002/aisy.202070030 (Featured on cover)