Working principle of bio-inspired shape memory alloy composite actuators

Colin Smith, Alex Villanueva, Keyur Joshi, Yonas Tadesse, Shashank Priya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Recently, bio-inspired shape memory alloy composite (BISMAC) actuators have been shown to mimic the deformation characteristics of natural jellyfish medusa. In this study, a constant cross-section BISMAC actuator was characterized in terms of bending deflection and force in conjunction with microscopy to understand its deformation mechanism. The actuator showed bending deflection of 111% with respect to the active length along with a blocking force of 0.061 N. The resulting energy density of the composite actuator was 4929 J m-3 at an input voltage and current level of 12 V and 0.7 A, respectively. For a dry-state actuator, this performance is extremely high and represents an optimum combination of force and deflection. Experiments reveal that BISMAC's performance is related to the moment induced from tip attachment of the shape memory alloy (SMA) rather than to friction within the composite structure. A physics-based model of BISMAC structure is presented which shows that the actuator is highly sensitive to the distance between the SMA wire and the incompressible component. While SMA has both stress and strain limitations, the limiting factor in BISMAC actuators is dependent on separation distance. The limiting factor in BISMAC's suitability for mimicking the performance of medusa was experimentally found to be related to the maximum 4% strain of the SMA and not its force generation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number012001
JournalSmart Materials and Structures
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Signal Processing
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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