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This paper investigates the dynamics of bent-beam electrothermal actuators and their use in impact actuation of other micromechanical elements, and in particular the issue of energy efficiency achieved by temporal variations in electrical drive signals. A transient thermal model of an actuator beam shows that the uniformity of temperature profile is greater when activating with short electrical pulses, which results in larger achievable displacements and forces. A dynamic force analysis reveals that using a train of pulses, referred to as a burst pulse, for activation achieves significant impact forces due to high velocities at the point of impact. The analytical trends are confirmed through experimental observations of microfabricated metal test structures in which actuators work against bistable mechanisms. Measurements of 2 mm and 3mm long actuators show that pulsed activation results in >5× reduction in energy consumption, with the activation energy falling from over 1000 μJ at dc activation, to less than 200 μJ using a 0.2-ms voltage pulse. The actuators however consume higher instantaneous power levels at shorter pulses, which may inhibit the use of pulses less than 1 ms in width. Further, the energy consumption through burst activation is 70% that of a single pulse, if sufficient impact forces are generated.