Bio-inspired robotic joint and manipulator : from biomechanical experimentation and modeling to human-like compliant finger design and control
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One of the greatest challenges in controlling robotic hands is grasping and manipulating objects in unstructured and uncertain environments. Robotic hands are typically too rigid to react against unexpected impacts and disturbances in order to prevent damage. The human hands have great versatility and robustness due, in part, to the passive compliance and damping. Designing mechanical elements that are inspired by the nonlinear joint compliance of human hands is a promising solution to achieve human-like grasping and manipulation. However, the exact role of biomechanical elements in realizing joint stiffness is unknown. We conducted a series of experiments to investigate nonlinear stiffness and damping of the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joint at the index finger. We designed a custom-made mechanism to integrate electromyography sensors (EMGs) and a motion capture system to collect data from 19 subjects. We investigated the relative contributions of muscle-tendon units and the MCP capsule ligament complex to joint stiffness with subject-specific modeling. The results show that the muscle-tendon units provide limited contribution to the passive joint compliance. This findings indicate that the parallel compliance, in the form of the capsule-ligament complex, is significant in defining the passive properties of the hand. To identify the passive damping, we used the hysteresis loops to investigate the energy dissipation function. We used symbolic regression and principal component analysis to derive and interpret the damping models. The results show that the nonlinear viscous damping depends on the cyclic frequency, and fluid and structural types of damping also exist at the MCP joint. Inspired by the nonlinear stiffness of the MCP joint, we developed a miniaturized mechanism that uses pouring liquid plastic to design energy storing elements. The key innovations in this design are: a) a set of nonlinear elasticity of compliant materials, b) variable pulley configurations to tune the stiffness profile, and c) pretension mechanism to scale the stiffness profile. The design exhibits human-like passive compliance. By taking advantage of miniaturized joint size and additive manufacturing, we incorporated the novel joint design in a novel robotic manipulator with six series elastic actuators (SEA). The robotic manipulator has passive joint compliance with the intrinsic property of human hands. To validate the system, we investigated the Cartesian stiffness of grasping with low-level force control. The results show that that the overall system performs a great force tracking with position feedback. The parallel compliance decreases the motor efforts and can stabilize the system.