A research group led by Professor Stefan Seelecke at the intelligent Material Systems Lab (iMSL) at Saarland University has developed valves and pumps made from silicone film. The films are printed on both sides with an electrically conducting material; scientists refer to these materials as dielectric elastomers . If a voltage is applied to the film, it generates an electrostatic attractive force that compresses the film, causing it to expand out sideways.
The scientists can leverage this effect to make the films execute vibrations or variable flexing motions. Since these motions can be precision-controlled via the applied voltage, valves and motorless pumps can be built which take up considerably less space than conventional models. Another advantage of such valves and pumps is that they communicate their status and activity in real time via the electrical capacitance. If, for example, a malfunction occurs as the result of a foreign object becoming trapped, this is communicated to the user immediately.