Flexonics are radically different from traditional electromechanical systems in both form and manner of construction.  The term "flexonics" derives from the fact that the proposed mechatronic systems achieve motion through flexion (bending).  There will be no traditional sliding or rolling movements in actuators, sensors, or joints.  Thus, flexonic devices will not utilize or need gears, bearings, or any sliding surface.  Motion and force will not be gererated by motors, but by the expansion and contraction of dielectric elastomer actuators. Because of this design strategy, there are no discontinuities between mechanical elements within a device. Therefore, a flexonic device can be constructed as a single part, without post-processing.

Flexonic devices will be fabricated using an inkjet printing technique. Through selective material deposition, a mechanism can be built layer by layer with a high level of complexity and integration.  A necessary component of inkjet polymer printing will be a diverse set of printable materials.  These include solution-based polymers and oligomers, nanoparticle suspensions, and other polymers that flow when heated.  The range of current polymer-oligomer-nanoparticle capabilities includes electro-mechanical sensing and actuation, specialized structural support, and electrical conduction.  Our goal is to utilize this diversity to construct both active and passive mechanical components. Ultimately, we intend to integrate driver and control electronics using the technologies being developed by Prof. Vivek Subramanian and his Organic Electronics Group.

Flexonic devices are not intended to replace all traditional mechanical systems. However, flexonic manufacturing and design offer a unique set of properties suitable for a variety of applications. Like most printing processes, there is no "charge" for complexity, only for the volume of material. Printing techniques allow high-complexity designs at low cost, so low that massive redundancy can be used to increase reliability as much as is needed. By exploiting the benefits of a diverse set of polymers, mechatronic devices can be made lightweight, with high energy densitites and efficiencies. Structural material properties can be soft and rubbery to hard and rigid. Applications range from the mundane (shape-changing furniture) to the exotic (anthropomorphic robots).
simple gripper demonstration one-piece construction and flexible finger mechanism

piezo printheads from MicroFab, Inc.

polymer actuator material
  last updated 08.02.03