skip to main content

Title: Design Principles for Compact, Backdrivable Actuation in Partial-Assist Powered Knee Orthoses
This paper presents the design and validation of a backdrivable powered knee orthosis for partial assistance of lower-limb musculature, which aims to facilitate daily activities in individuals with musculoskeletal disorders. The actuator design is guided by design principles that prioritize backdrivability, output torque, and compactness. First, we show that increasing the motor diameter while reducing the gear ratio for a fixed output torque ultimately reduces the reflected inertia (and thus backdrive torque). We also identify a tradeoff with actuator torque density that can be addressed by improving the motor's thermal environment, motivating our design of a custom Brushless DC motor with encapsulated windings. Finally, by designing a 7:1 planetary gearset directly into the stator, the actuator has a high package factor that reduces size and weight. Benchtop tests verify that the custom actuator can produce at least 23.9 Nm peak torque and 12.78 Nm continuous torque, yet has less than 2.68 Nm backdrive torque during walking conditions. Able-bodied human subjects experiments (N=3) demonstrate reduced quadriceps activation with bilateral orthosis assistance during lifting-lowering, sit-to-stand, and stair climbing. The minimal transmission also produces negligible acoustic noise.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1652514 1949869
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
IEEE/ASME Transactions on Mechatronics
Page Range / eLocation ID:
1 to 1
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. This paper presents the mechatronic design and initial validation of a partial-assist knee orthosis for individuals with musculoskeletal disorders, e.g., knee osteoarthritis and lower back pain. This orthosis utilizes a quasi-direct drive actuator with a low-ratio transmission (7:1) to greatly reduce the reflected inertia for high backdrivability. To provide meaningful assistance, a custom Brushless DC (BLDC) motor is designed with encapsulated windings to improve the motor’s thermal environment and thus its continuous torque output. The 2.69 kg orthosis is constructed from all custom-made components with a high package factor for lighter weight and a more compact size. The combination of compactness, backdrivability, and torque output enables the orthosis to provide partial assistance without obstructing the natural movement of the user. Several benchtop tests verify the actuator’s capabilities, and a human subject experiment demonstrates reduced quadriceps muscle activation when assisted during a repetitive lifting and lowering task. 
    more » « less
  2. High-performance actuators are crucial to enable mechanical versatility of wearable robots, which are required to be lightweight, highly backdrivable, and with high bandwidth. State-of-the-art actuators, e.g., series elastic actuators (SEAs), have to compromise bandwidth to improve compliance (i.e., backdrivability). We describe the design and human-robot interaction modeling of a portable hip exoskeleton based on our custom quasi-direct drive (QDD) actuation (i.e., a high torque density motor with low ratio gear). We also present a model-based performance benchmark comparison of representative actuators in terms of torque capability, control bandwidth, backdrivability, and force tracking accuracy. This paper aims to corroborate the underlying philosophy of “design for control“, namely meticulous robot design can simplify control algorithms while ensuring high performance. Following this idea, we create a lightweight bilateral hip exoskeleton to reduce joint loadings during normal activities, including walking and squatting. Experiments indicate that the exoskeleton is able to produce high nominal torque (17.5 Nm), high backdrivability (0.4 Nm backdrive torque), high bandwidth (62.4 Hz), and high control accuracy (1.09 Nm root mean square tracking error, 5.4% of the desired peak torque). Its controller is versatile to assist walking at different speeds and squatting. This work demonstrates performance improvement compared with state-of-the-art exoskeletons. 
    more » « less
  3. Wearable robotics has shown to be effective for assisting in activities of daily living and restoring motor functions. The objective of this research is to develop a soft robotic exosuit for knee flexion assistance during normal walking and validate its ability to reduce the efforts of the knee flexor muscles: biceps femoris (BF) and semitendinosus (SM). The exosuit is powered by an inflatable curved fabric actuator with the capability to generate flexion torques at the knee joint. An analytical model to characterize the torque of the proposed actuator is derived and validated experimentally. It is found that the analytical torque model precisely matches the experimental results such that the highest root mean square error (RMSE) obtained is 1.237 Nm while the lowest is 0.188 Nm. In addition, the derived model outperformed a benchmark torque model such that its minimum and maximum RMSEs are approximately 90% and 70% less than the benchmark model respectively. A prototype of the knee exosuit is fabricated and tested on one healthy subject with different operating conditions to assist knee flexion during normal walking. The results show that by choosing the appropriate timing of inflation, the exosuit can reduce the electromyography activity of the BF and the SM by 32% and 23%, respectively, without impeding the knee extensor muscle or reducing the knee's range of motion. 
    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
    The development of powered assistive devices that integrate exoskeletal motors and muscle activation for gait restoration benefits from actuators with low backdrive torque. Such an approach enables motors to assist as needed while maximizing the joint torque muscles, contributing to movement, and facilitating ballistic motions instead of overcoming passive dynamics. Two electromechanical actuators were developed to determine the effect of two candidate transmission implementations for an exoskeletal joint. To differentiate the transmission effects, the devices utilized the same motor and similar gearing. One actuator included a commercially available harmonic drive transmission while the other incorporated a custom designed two-stage planetary transmission. Passive resistance and mechanical efficiency were determined based on isometric torque and passive resistance. The planetary-based actuator outperformed the harmonic-based actuator in all tests and would be more suitable for hybrid exoskeletons. 
    more » « less
  5. Design of rehabilitation and physical assistance robots that work safely and efficiently despite uncertain operational conditions remains an important challenge. Current methods for the design of energy efficient series elastic actuators use an optimization formulation that typically assumes known operational requirements. This approach could lead to actuators that cannot satisfy elongation, speed, or torque requirements when the operation deviates from nominal conditions. Addressing this gap, we propose a convex optimization formulation to design the stiffness of series elastic actuators to minimize energy consumption and satisfy actuator constraints despite uncertainty due to manufacturing of the spring, unmodeled dynamics, efficiency of the transmission, and the kinematics and kinetics of the load. To achieve convexity, we write energy consumption as a scalar convex-quadratic function of compliance. As actuator constraints, we consider peak motor torque, peak motor velocity, limitations due to the speed-torque relationship of DC motors, and peak elongation of the spring. We apply our formulation to the robust design of a series elastic actuator for a powered prosthetic ankle. Our simulation results indicate that a small trade-off between energy efficiency and robustness is justified to design actuators that can operate with uncertainty. 
    more » « less