Electrostatic micro actuators can be found in smartphones, wearables, cars, implantable insulin pumps or in pico-projectors. Today, highly-miniaturized electromechanical systems with actively movable components (MEMS) provide the technological basis of countless applications in optics, communication and biotechnology as well as measurement and medical technology. Electrostatic fields are frequently used to drive the actuators. The nanoscopic electrostatic drive (NED) actuators developed at Fraunhofer IPMS reduce the electrode spacing needed to generate electrostatic forces to a few hundred nanometers and still achieve large deflection movements of more than 100 micrometers. "Large deflections are normally only possible with larger electrode distances and, therefore, with very high drive voltages," explains Prof. Harald Schenk, Director of the Fraunhofer IPMS and Head of the Research Team. "In NED actuators, however, electrostatic forces are diverted into lateral forces. These transformed lateral forces produce a quasi-static deflection within a bending beam, which can be substantially larger than the electrode spacing. As a result, our actuators provide higher performance while using much less energy."
The range of possible applications for NED actuators seems to be unlimited: led by Harald Schenk, the team is currently working on designs for positioning drives for miniaturized optical zoom lens systems, micropumps, microvalves and tiny loudspeakers for hearables and hearing aids. In the process, this technology could prove its potential for volume production. NED actuators are manufactured using conventional MEMS manufacturing methods for surface- and bulk-micromachining and can be easily integrated into semiconductor components and CMOS circuits.
Fraunhofer IPMS will present its first functional NED demonstrators and prototypes at Photonics West 2017, the leading international trade fair and conference for optical technologies running from January 30 - February 2, 2017 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Visitors can view the Fraunhofer IPMS exhibition at Booth 4324 in North Hall. Those taking part in the SPIE OPTO conference are also invited to attend Prof. Harald Schenk's invited talk "A Contribution of the Expansion of the Applicability of Electrostatic Forces in Micro Transducers" to learn more about the possibilities of the new class of electrostatic bending actuators. Prof. Schenk will be speaking on January 30, 2017 at 1:30 p.m.