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A decade of research into electroactive polymer actuators is leading to the exploration of applications. These technologies are not ready to compete with the internal combustion engine and electric motors in high power propulsion systems but are suitable for intermittent or aperiodic applications with moderate cycle life requirements, providing an alternative to solenoids and direct drive electric motors. Polypyrrole, an emerging actuator material, is applied to drive hydrodynamic control surfaces and in particular to change the camber of a foil. The foil is intended for use in the propeller blade of an autonomous underwater vehicle. A scaled prototype is constructed which employs polypyrrole actuators imbedded within the blade itself to vary camber. The kinematics required to generate camber change are demonstrated, with >30° deflections of the trailing edge being observed from both bending bilayer and linear actuator designs. Forces developed in still conditions are five times lower than the 3.5 N estimated to be required to implement variable camber. The observed 70 kJ/m3 polypyrrole work density however is more than sufficient to produce the desired actuation from within the limited blade volume, enabling an application that is not feasible using direct drive electric motors. A key challenge with the polypyrrole actuators is to increase force without sacrificing speed of actuation.
Date of Publication: July 2004