Identifying value in new technology

Key value propositions in applications for dielectric elastomer actuators

– Presented at EuroEAP 2015

Asger Lautrop, Elena Garcia de la Fuente and Alan Poole have proposed a method for discovering value in new technology. They focused on electromechanical actuators made from Dielectric Elastomers (DE), a promising form of Electroactive Polymer (EAP) because it is so different to other technologies.

In an academic field that is naturally dominated by engineering, finding desirable characteristics is often done simply by comparing the technology to others. Where it has higher performance, it is considered to be better in some way. However, this does not address user need, which may not benefit from the “superior” performance. We have the opinion that a new technology only has value when it is reflected in the Normally researchers would gather information from potential users of the technology, but there is a problem; DE is new and different, very different! So potential users must be educated and need to use considerable time to start thinking about how to benefit from the technology. This takes up valuable resources at companies who are rarely willing to consider this use of time an investment. In addition, DE actuators have an incredibly wide potential use, spanning all industrial sectors, so user need.

We therefore decided to extract information about the useful attributes of DE from existing academic work, which focus on the use of the technology in a specific application. Normally, this type of dissemination includes some justification for using DE in a particular application. Crucially, the authors have used considerable time to work with DE and understand its benefits with respect to its uniqueness. Furthermore, several applications were provided by a Danish company called LEAP Technology, who are working to commercialise this technology. We made a table, plotting application against desirable characteristics of DE.

The result clearly shows a trend towards applications that can benefit from soft, lightweight actuator systems, such as wearable devices and those in space exploration. The image on the left shows an extract of the more popular valuable attributes of DE actuators.
In the future, we expect this evaluation of DE actuators to change and evolve as more stakeholders in different industries gradually get involved in the technology. We can see the technique rolled out to other technologies and services as they develop.

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