Artimus Robotics completed a six-month study on the potential of HASEL actuators to offer self-diagnosis capabilities. A key feature of HASEL actuation technology is the capacitive nature of the devices, which enables the ability to monitor the state of the actuator in real-time by monitoring the driving electrical signal. Artimus leveraged the NASA Small Business Innovation Research Program to dedicate $125k to further exploring a variety of self-diagnosis capabilities of HASEL actuators. The goals of this project were successfully completed, and many of them have already been translated to Artimus Robotics’ commercial customers in industries such as automotive and industrial automation, demonstrating the dual-use capabilities of HASEL actuation.
Motivation of NASA to explore HASEL actuation technology
As NASA aims to return to the Moon, the reliability and safety of critical system components need to be reexamined. For next-generation mechanical reliability to be realized, a new class of intelligent components is required that can actively monitor their own state, performance, or other functional attributes to ensure efficacy. This intelligence will be critical in ensuring system success and adaptation to unknown environments, rather than relying on predetermined testing which inherently cannot replicate the actual conditions the system or component will be subject to once in operation.
These intelligent systems are a subset of a variety of Autonomous Operations Technologies (AOT), which can adapt to external stimuli with minimal to no human interaction. A particular family of intelligent systems is actuators, and more specifically, actuators with self-diagnosis capabilities. The self-diagnosis and calibration-on-demand capabilities of intelligent actuators will verify proper operation and lead to an overall decrease in operation and maintenance (O&M) cost by detecting anomalies/faults and modifying operation appropriately, leading to increased control and potential for fault recovery.
Key results and learnings are summarized below:
Failure detection. By monitoring the electrical driving signal of the HASEL actuator, a robust good/bad characterization was demonstrated, unlocking the ability to detect faulty HASEL actuators. This ability to detect failure has potential applications in NASA launch systems, as well as any smart-enabled application - especially industrial automation.
Predictive failure detection and avoidance. Using advanced monitoring of the electrical driving signal of the HASEL actuator, a predictive behavior of the actuator was established which was indicative of impending failure. This predictive indicator enabled the life of the HASEL actuator to be extended. This ability to predict impending failure and avoid failure could be critical in remote NASA applications and also be highly applicable to any terrestrial application where reliability and uptime are essential.
Displacement monitoring and confirmation. Using advanced monitoring of the electrical driving signal of the HASEL actuator, the actuation stroke can be monitored in real-time to determine the physical state of the actuator or connected mechanical subsystems. This self-sensing capability has applications in areas such as end effectors to determine a quality grasp, general actuation to detect blockage, or monitoring force input. Three exemplary videos are provided below demonstrating these abilities.
All customers are encouraged to reach out directly to understand how these NASA-sponsored advancements can be applied to their soft actuator use case.
Potential NASA Applications
The use of actuators in space - as on earth - is vast and wide. There are a variety of NASA application areas that could potentially adopt HASEL actuators. Artimus was extremely fortunate to receive extensive support from many stakeholders internal to the NASA organization, where potential use cases were discussed and explored, namely:
Dust seals - The intelligence and high degree of compliance in HASEL actuators have potential benefits for making a robust and reliable sealing structure. For example, the HASEL actuator seal could be in a highly deformable rest state, allowing for ease of use when sealing two surfaces together. The actuator could then be electrically activated and stiffened. While doing so, the intelligence of the actuator could perform tasks such as confirming sealing or detecting debris.
Activation of deployable structures - The low weight and compliance of the HASEL actuator has the potential to be highly synergistic with deployable structures such as shelters on future missions to the Moon and Mars.
Suits/Compression Devices - HASEL actuators have great value in replacing pneumatics for compression devices. Actuator development for use in mechanical counterpressure (MCP) suits and in assistive devices has the potential to be highly impactful.
Experimental actuator replacement - HASEL actuators are well suited for replacing slow and inefficient Shape Memory Alloy (SMA) actuators, low-stroke piezoelectric actuators, wax actuators, or other niche actuation technologies.
Next steps between Artimus and NASA
Artimus was successful in accomplishing all the stated technical goals proposed for this Phase I project and also made significant inroads with a variety of customers and applications. This NASA SBIR research was directly aimed at the needs of Artimus’ current and future customers, making Artimus an exemplary partner of the SBIR program. These business advancements were supported by additional sources such as the NASA I-Corps program, external funding, and product sales. After realizing success during the Phase I project, Artimus has requested additional support from NASA in the form of a Phase II SBIR to explore higher fidelity sensing capabilities and to transition the self-diagnosis system to a standalone package.
About the NASA SBIR program
The NASA SBIR/STTR program funds the research, development, and demonstration of innovative technologies that fulfill NASA's needs as described in the annual solicitations and have significant potential for successful commercialization. For more information, visit https://sbir.nasa.gov/
Learn more about Artimus Robotics’ NASA SBIR award here: