TitleA Configurable Architecture for Two Degree-of-Freedom Variable Stiffness Actuators to Match the Compliant Behavior of Human Joints
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsLemerle, S, Catalano, MG, Bicchi, A, Grioli, G
JournalFrontiers in Robotics and AI
Date Published03/2021
Keywordsarticulated soft robotics, artificial joints, humanoids, prostheses, variable stiffness

Living beings modulate the impedance of their joints to interact proficiently, robustly, and safely with the environment. These observations inspired the design of soft articulated robots with the development of Variable Impedance and Variable Stiffness Actuators. However, designing them remains a challenging task due to their mechanical complexity, encumbrance, and weight, but also due to the different specifications that the wide range of applications requires. For instance, as prostheses or parts of humanoid systems, there is currently a need for multi-degree-of-freedom joints that have abilities similar to those of human articulations. Toward this goal, we propose a new compact and configurable design for a two-degree-of-freedom variable stiffness joint that can match the passive behavior of a human wrist and ankle. Using only three motors, this joint can control its equilibrium orientation around two perpendicular axes and its overall stiffness as a one-dimensional parameter, like the co-contraction of human muscles. The kinematic architecture builds upon a state-of-the-art rigid parallel mechanism with the addition of nonlinear elastic elements to allow the control of the stiffness. The mechanical parameters of the proposed system can be optimized to match desired passive compliant behaviors and to fit various applications (e.g., prosthetic wrists or ankles, artificial wrists, etc.). After describing the joint structure, we detail the kinetostatic analysis to derive the compliant behavior as a function of the design parameters and to prove the variable stiffness ability of the system. Besides, we provide sets of design parameters to match the passive compliance of either a human wrist or ankle. Moreover, to show the versatility of the proposed joint architecture and as guidelines for the future designer, we describe the influence of the main design parameters on the system stiffness characteristic and show the potential of the design for more complex applications

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