Recent advancements in the field of robotics, particularly in the area of hydraulic actuators, have increased interests in small-scale machine and robot systems. Although development of these small machines and robots has increased, the efficiency of these small systems is very poor compared to that of their larger counterparts. Difficulties arise during the miniaturization of mechanical parts required to pump liquid in a small-scale hydraulic system. In response to these problems, there is an increased interest in developing a solid state pump with no moving parts or seals that would minimize the amount of moving parts in a small system. One way of accomplishing this is to develop a solid state pump that uses electrorheological (ER) fluid.
UPEL is currently collaborating with MIT University and government organization DARPA on a project involving small-scale hydraulic systems. The primary goal of the project is to increase the efficiency of small-scale hydraulic systems by developing a solid state pump that only uses an applied electric field to pump fluid instead of moving parts or seals. This pumping action will be achieved by generating an appropriate electric field which will cause the dielectric particles in the ER fluid to move in the desired direction. UPEL's research is concentrated on modeling and developing a multichannel, high voltage (HV) power generating converter that will create distinct waveforms across the pump. The latest version of the multichannel HV generator was demonstrated to drive a pump with amplitudes of 650V while applying various time and space modulated signals.
Potential benefits from this research include miniaturization of small-scale hydraulic systems that exhibit high efficiency without the use of moving parts, which have a tendency to wear down over time. These small-scale hydraulic systems could be implemented into current micro and nano-scale machine and robot systems which could then be applied in aerospace, medical, and other industrial fields.