Achieving human-like dexterity in robotic hands : inspiration from human hand biomechanics and neuromuscular control
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The human hand's unique biomechanical structure and neuromuscular control combine to produce amazing dexterous capabilities in a way that is still not fully understood. The Anatomically Correct Testbed (ACT) hand is a robotic system that is designed as a physical simulation of the human hand, and can help us examine and potentially uncover the roles of biomechanics and neural control in achieving dexterity. In this dissertation, I utilize the ACT hand and other robotic systems to explore the underlying sources of human hand dexterity, with the goal of understanding the fundamental differences between robotic and human hands in terms of (i) mechanical joint/tendon structure and (ii) control strategies. To begin, I develop comprehensive mechanical models that describe the musculoskeletal and tendon mechanics of the fingers and thumb of the human hand. Then, I work to isolate the contributions of biomechanical structure and neuromuscular control toward human dexterity. I have developed and implemented control strategies for achieving fine object manipulation first with the robotic hand of a space humanoid, Robonaut 2, and then with the ACT hand. I examined the unique control challenges, including uncontrollable joints and the requirement of accurate internal models, that arise due to the human hand's complex musculotendon structure and the potential advantages offered by the human hand's design, such as passive joint coupling to facilitate grasp shape adaptation and force production capabilities that are ideally suited for common manipulation tasks. Finally, inspired by the neuromuscular control strategies of the human hand, I have developed a novel hierarchical control strategy for the ACT hand and experimentally demonstrated improved grasp stability and manipulation capabilities compared to conventional robotic control laws. Through an in-depth exploration of human hand biomechanics and neuromuscular control, theoretical control analysis of robotic and human hands, and experimental demonstration of fine object manipulation, this work uncovers crucial insights into the sources of human hand dexterity that have the potential to drive innovative design and control strategies and bring robotic and prosthetic hands closer to human levels of dexterity.