Optimal Control of Dielectric Elastomer Actuated Multibody Dynamical Systems

Dengpeng Huang*, Sigrid Leyendecker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In this work, a simulation model for the optimal control of dielectric elastomer actuated flexible multibody dynamics systems is presented. The dielectric elastomer actuator (DEA) behaves like a flexible artificial muscle in soft robotics. It is modeled as an electromechanically coupled geometrically exact beam, where the electric charges serve as control variables. The DEA-beam is integrated as an actuator into multibody systems consisting of rigid and flexible components. The model also represents contact interaction via unilateral constraints between the beam actuator and, for example, a rigid body during the grasping process of a soft robot. With a mathematically concise and physically representative formulation, a reduced free energy function is developed for the electromechanically coupled beam. In the optimal control problem, an objective function is minimized while the electromechanically coupled dynamic balance equations for the multibody system have to be fulfilled together with the complementarity conditions for the contact and boundary conditions. The optimal control problem is solved via a direct transcription method, transforming it into a constrained nonlinear optimization problem. The electromechanically coupled geometrically exact beam is firstly semidiscretized with one-dimensional finite elements and then the multibody dynamics is temporally discretized with a variational integrator leading to the discrete Euler-Lagrange equations, which are further reduced with the null space projection. The discrete Euler-Lagrange equations and the boundary conditions serve as equality constraints, whereas the contact constraints are treated as inequality constraints in the optimization of the discretized objective. The constrained optimization problem is solved using the Interior Point Optimizer solver. The effectiveness of the developed model is demonstrated by three numerical examples, including a cantilever beam, a soft robotic worm, and a soft robotic grasper.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)897-911
Number of pages15
JournalSoft Robotics
Issue number5
Early online date28 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • NLA
  • n/a OA procedure
  • dielectric elastomer actuator
  • flexible multibody dynamics
  • continuum robot
  • optimal control


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