Actuators2014, 3(3), 270-284; doi:10.3390/act3030270 - published 11 August 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: The fundamental objective in developing variable stiffness actuators is to enable the actuator to deliberately tune its stiffness. This is done through controlling the energy flow extracted from internal power units, i.e.,themotors of a variable stiffness actuator (VSA). However, the stiffness may also be unintentionally affected by the external environment, over which, there is no control. This paper analysis the correlation between the external loads, applied to different variable stiffness actuators, and their resultant output stiffness. Different types of variable stiffness actuators have been studied considering springs with different types of nonlinearity. The results provide some insights into how to design the actuator mechanism and nonlinearity of the springs in order to increase the decoupling between the load and stiffness in these actuators. This would significantly widen the application range of a variable stiffness actuator.
Actuators2014, 3(3), 245-269; doi:10.3390/act3030245 - published 28 July 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: The current smallest self-contained modular robot uses a shape memory alloy, which is inherently inefficient, slow and difficult to control. We present the design, fabrication and demonstration of a module based on dielectric elastomer actuation. The module uses a pair of bowtie dielectric elastomer actuators in an agonist-antagonist configuration and is seven times smaller than previously demonstrated. In addition, we present an intuitive model for the bowtie configuration that predicts the performance with experimental verification. Based on this model and the experimental analysis, we address the theoretical limitations and advantages of this antagonistic bender design relative to other dielectric elastomer actuators.
Actuators2014, 3(3), 226-244; doi:10.3390/act3030226 - published 9 July 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Soft robotics requires technologies that are capable of generating forces even though the bodies are composed of very light, flexible and soft elements. A soft actuation mechanism was developed in this work, taking inspiration from the arm of the Octopus vulgaris, specifically from the muscular hydrostat which represents its constitutive muscular structure. On the basis of the authors’ previous works on shape memory alloy (SMA) springs used as soft actuators, a specific arrangement of such SMA springs is presented, which is combined with a flexible braided sleeve featuring a conical shape and a motor-driven cable. This robot arm is able to perform tasks in water such as grasping, multi-bending gestures, shortening and elongation along its longitudinal axis. The whole structure of the arm is described in detail and experimental results on workspace, bending and grasping capabilities and generated forces are presented. Moreover, this paper demonstrates that it is possible to realize a self-contained octopus-like robotic arm with no rigid parts, highly adaptable and suitable to be mounted on underwater vehicles. Its softness allows interaction with all types of objects with very low risks of damage and limited safety issues, while at the same time producing relatively high forces when necessary.
Actuators2014, 3(3), 205-225; doi:10.3390/act3030205 - published 9 July 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Conventional pneumatic grippers are widely used in industrial pick and place robot processes for rigid objects. They are simple, robust and fast, but their design, motion and features are limited, and they do not fulfil the final purpose. Food products have a wide variety of shapes and textures and are susceptible to damaged. Robot grippers for food handling should adapt to this wide range of dimensions and must be fast, cheap, reasonably reliable, and with cheap and reasonable maintenance costs. They should not damage the product and must meet hygienic conditions. The additive manufacturing (AM) process is able to manufacture parts without significant restrictions, and is Polyamide approved as food contact material by FDA. This paper presents that, taking the best of plastic flexibility, AM allows the implementation of novel actuators, original compliant mechanisms and practical grippers that are cheap, light, fast, small and easily adaptable to specific food products. However, if they are not carefully designed, the results can present problems, such as permanent deformations, low deformation limits, and low operation speed. We present possible solutions for the use of AM to design proper robot grippers for food handling. Some successful results, such as AM actuators based on deformable air chambers, AM compliant mechanisms, and grippers developed in a single part will be introduced and discussed.
Actuators2014, 3(3), 182-204; doi:10.3390/act3030182 - published 9 July 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Force-controlled series elastic actuators (SEA) are widely used in novel human-robot interaction (HRI) applications, such as assistive and rehabilitation robotics. These systems are characterized by the presence of the “human in the loop”, so that control response and stability depend on uncertain human dynamics, including reflexes and voluntary forces. This paper proposes a force control approach that guarantees the stability and robustness of the coupled human-robot system, based on sliding-mode control (SMC), considering the human dynamics as a disturbance to reject. We propose a chattering free solution that employs simple task models to obtain high performance, comparable with second order solutions. Theoretical stability is proven within the sliding mode framework, and predictability is reached by avoiding the reaching phase by design. Furthermore, safety is introduced by a proper design of the sliding surface. The practical feasibility of the approach is shown using an SEA prototype coupled with a human impedance in severe stress tests. To show the quality of the approach, we report a comparison with state-of-the-art second order SMC, passivity-based control and adaptive control solutions.
Actuators2014, 3(3), 162-181; doi:10.3390/act3030162 - published 9 July 2014 Show/Hide Abstract
Abstract: Grid capacity, reliability, and efficient distribution of power have been major challenges for traditional power grids in the past few years. Reliable and efficient distribution within these power grids will continue to depend on the development of lighter and more efficient sensing units with lower costs in order to measure current and detect failures across the grid. The objective of this paper is to present the development of a miniature piezoelectric-based sensor for AC current measurements in single conductors, which are used in power transmission lines. Additionally presented in this paper are the thermal testing results for the sensor to assess its robustness for various operating temperatures.