Dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs) are energy efficient, compact, and operate silently. DEAs consist of an elastomer membrane sandwiched between two stretchable electrodes. Optimizing the quality of both the elastomer and the stretchable electrodes is essential to improve the DEAs performance. Herein, novel strategies are reported to achieve fast, reliable, and low-cost fabrication of DEAs. The strategies utilize a soft brush to directly pattern carbon nanotube (CNT) powder on the elastomer membrane and tune the mechanical and surface-adhesiveness characteristics of a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) membrane by altering the mixing ratio of the curing agent and base polymer. A uniaxial engineering tensile test on PDMS indicates that a softer material is formed when less curing agent is used. The softer PDMS has a sticky surface, which allows the CNT powder to be physically bound to the surface. Field-emission scanning electron microscopy (FE-SEM) images prove that the strong CNT network is formed on the surface of the elastomer. The electromechanical investigation also indicates that the electrical conductivity is improved for a stickier PDMS surface. The optimal performance of PDMS 30-1 in static and cyclic DEA tests shows that the brushing of CNT combined with soft and sticky elastomer membranes can increase the DEA performance.
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