Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering (MSME)

Degree Level



Mechanical Engineering


WenChao Zhou

Committee Member

Steve Tung

Second Committee Member

Adam Huang


Applied sciences, 3d printing, Dielectric elastomer actuator, Soft robot


4D printing is an emerging technology that prints 3D structural smart materials that can respond to external stimuli and change shape over time. 4D printing represents a major manufacturing paradigm shift from single-function static structures to dynamic structures with highly integrated functionalities. Direct printing of dynamic structures can provide great benefits (e.g., design freedom, low material cost) to a wide variety of applications, such as sensors and actuators, and robotics. Soft robotics is a new direction of robotics in which hard and rigid components are replaced by soft and flexible materials to mimic mechanisms that works in living creatures, which are crucial for dealing with uncertain and dynamic tasks. However, little research on direct printing of soft robotics has been reported. Due to the short history of 4D printing, only a few smart materials have been successfully 4D printed, such as shape memory and thermo-responsive polymers, which have relatively small actuation strains (up to ~8%). In order to produce the large motion, dielectric elastomer actuator (DEA), a sheet of elastomer sandwiched between two compliant electrodes and known as artificial muscle for its high elastic energy density and capability of producing large strains (~200%), is chosen as the actuator for soft robotics. Little research on 3D printing silicone DEA soft robotics has been done in the literature. Thus, this thesis is motivated by applying the advantages in 3D printing fabrication methods to develop DEA soft robotics. The ultimate research goal is to demonstrate fully printed DEA soft robots with large actuation. In Chapter 1, the research background of soft robotics and DEAs are introduced, as well as 3D printing technologies. Chapter 2 reports the rules of selecting potentially good silicone candidates and the printing process with printed material characterizations. Chapter 3 studies the effects of pre-strain condition on silicone material properties and the performance of DEA configurations, in order to obtain large actuation strain. In Chapter 4, two facial soft robots are designed to achieve facial expressions as judged by a smiling lip and expanding pupils based on DEA actuation. Conclusions and future developments are given in chapter 5 and 6, respectively.