Reality Labs Research at Meta (formerly Facebook) is seeking proposals on novel research that advances the state-of-the-art in the area of soft actuators, primarily soft electromagnetic actuation, that impact the development of wearable haptic devices for virtual and augmented reality platforms. Depending on the quality and requirements of the research, one research proposal may receive up to $250,000. We are particularly interested in research that increases the force density of soft electromagnetic actuators or makes fundamental improvements in soft magnetic materials or thermal management of these actuators. In addition to results and data, we expect proof-of-concept functional research prototypes demonstrating the proposed idea in a laboratory setting at the conclusion of the project.
Current soft actuators for haptics have several limitations such as slow response, low force output, are difficult to control precisely, or require bulky source or high-control voltages, which limit their application in untethered wearable devices [1, 2]. Pneumatic actuators are widely used in soft robotics due to their ability to generate large output force, but need high-pressure (>15 psi), low-efficiency bulky pneumatic source, noisy actuation valves, and are slow in response (limited to a few Hz bandwidth). Electrostatic actuators (e.g., hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic actuators or dielectric elastomer actuators) show good high-frequency performance, but have low-force density and require high operational voltages of thousands of volts with bulky high voltage power electronics and pose a risk for humans. Conventional electromagnetic motors offer many advantages such as fast response and lower actuation voltage, as well as highly programmable and well-controlled movements, compared to existing soft actuators.
New types of soft electromagnetic actuators have recently been developed by reforming actuator structure and resorting to novel stretchable conductors and magnetic composites that retain most of the advantages of conventional rigid electromagnetic actuators without inheriting much of their encumbrance [3–13]. These actuators offer an avenue to develop a new class of soft haptic actuators that offer high performance, low encumbrance, ease of integration with wearables, high efficiency, and untethered operation.