Electrical breakdown detection system for dielectric elastomer actuators
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Electrical breakdown of dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) is an issue that has to be carefully addressed when designing systems based on this novel technology. Indeed, in some systems electrical breakdown might have serious consequences, not only in terms of interruption of the desired function but also in terms of safety of the overall system (e.g. overheating and even burning). The risk for electrical breakdown often cannot be completely avoided by simply reducing the driving voltages, either because completely safe voltages might not generate sufficient actuation or because internal or external factors might change some properties of the actuator whilst in operation (for example the aging or fatigue of the material, or an externally imposed deformation decreasing the distance between the compliant electrodes). So, there is the clear need for reliable, simple and cost-effective detection systems that are able to acknowledge the occurrence of a breakdown event, making DEA-based devices able to monitor their status and become safer and "selfaware". Here a simple solution for a portable detection system is reported that is based on a voltage-divider configuration that detects the voltage drop at the DEA terminals and assesses the occurrence of breakdown via a microcontroller (Beaglebone Black single-board computer) combined with a real-time, ultra-low-latency processing unit (Bela cape an open-source embedded platform developed at Queen Mary University of London). The system was used to both generate the control signal that drives the actuator and constantly monitor the functionality of the actuator, detecting any breakdown event and discontinuing the supplied voltage accordingly, so as to obtain a safer controlled actuation. This paper presents preliminary tests of the detection system in different scenarios in order to assess its reliability.