A reconfigurable tactile display based on polymer MEMS technology
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This research focuses on the development of polymer microfabrication technologies for the realization of two major components of a pneumatic tactile display: a microactuator array and a complementary microvalve (control) array. The concept, fabrication, and characterization of a kinematically-stabilized polymeric microbubble actuator (¡°endoskeletal microbubble actuator¡±) were presented. A systematic design and modeling procedure was carried out to generate an optimized geometry of the corrugated diaphragm to satisfy membrane deflection, force, and stability requirements set forth by the tactile display goals. A refreshable Braille cell as a tactile display prototype has been developed based on a 2x3 endoskeletal microbubble array and an array of commercial valves. The prototype can provide both a static display (which meets the displacement and force requirement of a Braille display) and vibratory tactile sensations. Along with the above capabilities, the device was designed to meet the criteria of lightness and compactness to permit portable operation. The design is scalable with respect to the number of tactile actuators while still being simple to fabricate. In order to further reduce the size and cost of the tactile display, a microvalve array can be integrated into the tactile display system to control the pneumatic fluid that actuates the microbubble actuator. A piezoelectrically-driven and hydraulically-amplified polymer microvalve has been designed, fabricated, and tested. An incompressible elastomer was used as a solid hydraulic medium to convert the small axial displacement of a piezoelectric actuator into a large valve head stroke while maintaining a large blocking force. The function of the microvalve as an on-off switch for a pneumatic microbubble tactile actuator was demonstrated. To further reduce the cost of the microvalve, a laterally-stacked multilayer PZT actuator has been fabricated using diced PZT multilayer, high aspect ratio SU-8 photolithography, and molding of electrically conductive polymer composite electrodes.