as thin as 20 micrometers.
To operate such a base unit as a dielectric elastomer actuator, a voltage must be applied. The level of this operating voltage depends on the film thickness – the thinner the elastomer film, the lower the voltage needed. The actuators currently in development typically have film thicknesses between 20 and 60 microns, and are therefore much thinner than a human hair. The voltages involved are in the order of several kilovolts. At these levels, the thickness of the film decreases by 5 to 30 percent, with the exact figure depending on the material. At the same time, the surface area typically increases by 50 percent.
Application of a voltage to a single actuator base unit produces a deformation of just a few microns. That is not enough for industrial use. However, if large numbers of them are stacked together and connected up in parallel, changes in the order of several millimeters and even centimeters are possible. These stacks, which can have any shape, can be used to generate different types of movement.