Compliance has been exploited in various forms in robotic systems to allow rigid mechanisms to come into contact with fragile objects, or with complex shapes that cannot be accurately modeled. Force feedback control has been the classical approach for providing compliance in robotic systems. However, by integrating other forms of instrumentation with compliance into a single device, it is possible to extend close monitoring of nearby objects before and after contact occurs. As a result, safer and smoother robot control can be achieved both while approaching and while touching surfaces. This paper presents the design and extensive experimental evaluation of a versatile, lightweight, and low-cost instrumented compliant wrist mechanism which can be mounted on any rigid robotic manipulator in order to introduce a layer of compliance while providing the controller with extra sensing signals during close interaction with an object’s surface. Arrays of embedded range sensors provide real-time measurements on the position and orientation of surfaces, either located in proximity or in contact with the robot’s end-effector, which permits close guidance of its operation. Calibration procedures are formulated to overcome inter-sensor variability and achieve the highest available resolution. A versatile solution is created by embedding all signal processing, while wireless transmission connects the device to any industrial robot’s controller to support path control. Experimental work demonstrates the device’s physical compliance as well as the stability and accuracy of the device outputs. Primary applications of the proposed instrumented compliant wrist include smooth surface following in manufacturing, inspection, and safe human-robot interaction.
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