Digital Forum
Online Only
22 - 26 March 2021
Special Events
EAPAD Conference Welcome and Keynote Speaker
Date: Monday, 22 March 2021
Time: 1:30 PM - 3:00 PM PDT
EAP Conference Opening by the Chairs (Anderson, Shea and Madden) followed by a live Keynote talk with audience Q & A.

Optoelectronic Sensing of the Deformation of Soft Robots, and their Electrohydraulic Power (Keynote Presentation)
Paper 11587-1



Author(s): Robert F. Shepherd, Cornell Univ. (United States)


Abstract: An engineering contradiction exists between enduring and adaptable robots—we have examples of autonomous cars that can drive for 100’s of miles, or legged ones that can do backflips for a little while, but never the twain shall meet. Pushing this Pareto frontier outwards towards biological capabilities of enduring and adaptive mobility will probably require embracing complexity and multifunctionality. Meaning, hierarchical assembly of several sub-systems (i.e., organs) and packing energy into every cubic centimeter of volume. Towards this end, I will talk about our work to “innervate” robots for tactile feedback using stretchable sensing “skins” for high density shape sensing measurements to improve control authority in high degree of freedom (passive or active) continuum structures and actuators. My focus will be on the use of stretchable fiberoptic lightguides as a sensing medium for estimating deformation and temperature in the “meat” of these compliant structures and actuators. After discussing sensing, I will then describe our concept of “Robot Blood” in order to increase the overall energy density of hydraulically powered robots. This Robot Blood is an electrolyte based off of redox flow battery (RFB) chemistry that performs the additional function of force transmission and soft actuator inflation. I will close by demonstrating robots that take advantage of this electrohydraulic power

Biography: Rob Shepherd is an associate professor at Cornell University in the Sibley School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. He received his B.S. (Material Science & Engineering), Ph.D. (Material Science & Engineering), and M.B.A. from the University of Illinois in Material Science & Engineering. At Cornell, he runs the Organic Robotics Lab (ORL: http://orl.mae.cornell.edu), which focuses on using methods of invention, including bioinspired design approaches, in combination with material science to improve machine function and autonomy. We rely on new and old synthetic approaches for soft material composites that create new design opportunities in the field of robotics. Our research spans three primary areas: bioinspired robotics, advanced manufacturing, and human-robot interactions. He is the recipient of an Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award, an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, and his lab’s work has been featured in popular media outlets such as the BBC, Discovery Channel, and PBS’s NOVA documentary series.
EAP-in-Action Session: Q&A with Demo Teams
Date: Tuesday, 23 March 2021
Time: 1:30 PM - 2:30 PM PDT
Part of conference 11587 on EAPAD. Watch the demonstration presentations here.


Session Chair: Yoseph Bar-Cohen, Jet Propulsion Lab.

This Session highlights some of the latest capabilities and applications of Electroactive Polymers (EAP) materials where the attendees are shown demonstrations of these materials in action. The first Human/EAP-Robot Armwrestling Contest was held during this session of the 2005 EAPAD conference.

Tentative EAP Demonstrations

Dielectric Elastomers: new materials and new applications
Roshan Plamthottam, Ye Shi, Erin Askounis, Yu Qiu, Zihang Peng, Zhixin Xie, Jinsung Kim, Qibing Pei, Soft Materials Research Laboratory, Univ. of California (United States)




HAXELs: Hydraulically amplified mm-scale actuators for wearable haptics
Edouard Leroy, Herbert Shea, Soft Transducers Laboratory, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) (Switzerland)


A flexible array of high-force and high-stroke mm-scale actuators for wearable haptics will be presented. The soft actuators are capable of both of out-of-plane motion and in-plane motion, allowing the user to feel both normal forces and shear forces from the same active bump. Combining features of DEAs and HASEL devices, each actuator consists of an oil-filled cavity made of a metalized polymer perimeter and a central elastomer region. When a voltage is applied to the electrodes, the fluid is rapidly forced into the central region, forming a bump. Each actuator generates forces of up to 300 mN and displacements of up to 500 µm (60% strain), with a response time of under 10 ms. The 5x5 array is low-profile (<1 mm thick), lightweight (90 mg per actuator) and is suitable for integration in a haptic glove, sleeve or bracelet. It can also be used as a dynamic graphical display for blind or visually impaired users.

High Voltage Signal Generator (HVSG)
Markus Henke, PowerON Ltd. (New Zealand), TU Dresden (Germany), Univ. of Auckland (New Zealand); Hui Zhi (Zak) Beh, PowerON Ltd. (New Zealand); Katie Wilson, PowerON Ltd. (New Zealand), Univ. of Auckland (New Zealand); Iain Anderson, PowerON Ltd. (New Zealand), Univ. of Auckland (New Zealand)


Tired of spending too much money on high voltage amplifiers? Are you taking time soldering “homemade” PCBS when you just need an accurate HV signal to carry out your programme? We share your problem, having worked since 2008 with dielectric elastomers (DEs) that need HV. After many years of development, we have a HVSG ready for you to use. More than a simple power supply, the HVSG is a controller for running demonstrators and experimental set ups that require high voltage, with 4 independent channels. Each output channel can supply up to 4kV with a choice of waveforms like DC, rectangle, triangle, and sine with a frequency of up to 20Hz. With the interactive touchscreen display and flexibility of the HVSG operation, your experiment, demonstrator or product that requires high voltage will be quickly up and running. Dielectric elastomers, piezo electronics, electrostriction or robotics are some applications for the HVSG.

Soft tactile detector arrays for robotic grippers
Markus Henke, PowerOn Ltd. (New Zealand), TU Dresden (Germany), Univ. of Auckland (New Zealand); Dawei Zhang, PowerOn Ltd. (New Zealand); Katie Wilson, PowerOn Ltd. (New Zealand), Univ. of Auckland (New Zealand); Iain Anderson, PowerOn Ltd. (New Zealand), Univ. of Auckland (New Zealand)



The second device is a 6x6 tactile array attached to a soft silicone piece that contains the measurement and evaluation PCBs. The integrated measurement PCB generates industry standard CAN bus signals that can control gripper units.

We present an implementation of entirely soft and stretchable geometric dielectric elastomer switches (gDES) for soft robotic components. The switches are arranged in 2D arrays to enable space-resolved tactile sense. Soft adaptive grippers have the ability to grip randomly formed objects by adapting their geometry. To do so they undergo large three-dimensional deformations. At the moment there is a lack of electronics for touch detection in such grippers, because conventional electronics rely on rigid semi-conductor electronics and would hinder large deformations. Soft and stretchable gDES arrays give soft robotic grippers the ability to detect touch and do not prevent adaptive gipping. We present two different kinds of soft tactile sensor arrays. The first is attached to an adaptive gripper unit and the design includes a control-loop that can adjust the gripping force to the gripped object. A FESTO fin-ray gripper with all necessary peripheral components, such as pressure-controller and control-valves is used as proof of concept system. Fin-ray grippers are soft, adaptable grippers that can grip variously formed objects, but do not possess any sensing electronics for touch detection so far. Our soft tactile gDES sensor arrays give soft grippers the ability to “feel” touch.

Synthetic Muscle™ in Robotics: Extremely Sensitive Sensing
Lenore Rasmussen, Peter Vicars, Calum Briggs, Tianyu Cheng, Ras Labs, Inc. (United States)




Ras Labs’ Synthetic Muscle™ is a durable manmade material capable of life like motion. Synthetic Muscle™ is a class of electroactive polymer (EAP) based materials and actuators that controllably contracts and expands at low voltage (less than 50 V, including battery levels), senses pressure (gentle touch to high impact), and attenuates force. Though Ras Labs’ EAPs are soft and compliant, they are also tough and robust, surviving many harsh environments including broad spectrum radiation, extreme temperatures, and extreme pressures. Inspired by biology, there has been a drive to develop soft bodied motion to combine natural compliance with controllable actuation and touch sensing. Ras Labs’ EAP systems have been integrated into traditional marketplace grippers. These EAPs also intrinsically sense pressure and are being integrated as tactile touch-like sensor systems into robotic grippers. Human grasp is gentle yet firm. Compliant fingertip sensors will provide for near immediate pressure sensing feedback and thus control, particularly at that crucial first point of contact. Our newest EAP based soft sensors are extremely sensitive, with a broad pressure range from at least 0.05 N up to 50 N. These FingerPad™ sensors were validated and verified down to 0.05 N, with ongoing testing to capture the limits of the extreme sensitivity. Our FingerPad™ sensors are able to pick up heartbeat pulses, including components of the pulse, at the wrist and other locations. From fatigue testing, these sensors are also robust. Ras Labs’ FingerPad™ sensors will be demonstrated, as well as how they work retrofitted into robotic grippers.

Multifunctional actuators and energy harvester based on the electrostatic bellow muscle
I.D Sirbu, Univ. of Trento (Italy), G. Moretti, Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (Italy), M. Bolignari, S. Diré, L. Fambri, Univ. of Trento (Italy), R. Vertechy, Univ. of Bologna (Italy), M. Fontana, Univ. of Trento (Italy) and Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (Italy)


Figure: Picture showing a preliminary version of the demo
This demo presents the Electrostatic Bellow Muscle (EBM), a flexible multipurpose actuator that is obtained by stacking multiple bellow-shaped actuation units. EBM takes inspiration from previous work on liquid-gap electrostatic actuators introducing a new architecture. This novel solution makes it possible to implement an actuator that features a flexible/multipurpose applications such as contractile muscle, pump or energy harvester, while maintaining performance that are comparable to those of previously developed actuation systems. Additionally, a very simple manufacturing process makes it possible to scale up force or displacement by arranging in series or in-parallel actuators. Specifically, the demo (see figure below) will show an EBM with cylindrical shape with a diameter of 30 mm and a height sof 14 mm lifting a weight of approximately 300g with a displacement of 6-7mm at different frequencies.

Wednesday Coffee Lounge
Date: Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Time: 8:00 AM - 8:00 PM PDT
The Coffee Lounge is a space you can use to connect with colleagues throughout the Digital Forum. Arrange committee meetings, hold impromptu discussion sessions, or just stop in and see who is already here. The Coffee Lounge will be hosted on Wonder, an online platform that allows for free-form movement and social interactions. Choose your conversations and move around to connect with your colleagues.
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