A feature article in US technical magazine Machine Design looks in depth at dielectric elastomers in artificial muscles, soft robotics, and medical actuators. Made up of dipolar molecules that align with an electric field, these materials can expand or shape-shift in response to an applied voltage.
An example is a dielectric elastomer from North Carolina State University, Raleigh. It is enhanced with electroactive “bottlebrush” polymers (so-named because of their resemblance to bottlebrush plants) that allow it to deform under relatively low electric fields. The polymers also enable the elastomer to hold its final shape after the field is removed.