A FEM-Experimental Approach for the Development of a Conceptual Linear Actuator Based on Tendril's Free Coiling
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Within the vastness of the plant species, certain living systems show tendril structures whose motion is of particular interest for biomimetic engineers. Tendrils sense and coil around suitable grips, and by shortening in length, they erect the remaining plant body. To achieve contraction, tendrils rotate along their main axis and shift from a linear to a double-spring geometry. This phenomenon is denoted as the free-coiling phase. In this work, with the aim of understanding the fundamentals of the mechanics behind the free coiling, a reverse-engineering approach based on the finite element method was firstly applied. The model consisted of an elongated cylinder with suitable material properties, boundary, and loading conditions, in order to reproduce the kinematics of the tendril. The simulation succeeded in mimicking coiling faithfully and was therefore used to validate a tentative linear actuator model based on the plant’s working principle. More in detail, exploiting shape memory alloy materials to obtain large reversible deformations, the main tendril features were implemented into a nickel-titanium spring-based testing model. The results of the experimental tests confirmed the feasibility of the idea in terms of both functioning principles and actual performance. It can be concluded that the final set-up can be used as a base for a prototype design of a new kind of a linear actuator.