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  1. Mobility disabilities are prominent in society with wide-ranging deficits, motivating modular, partial-assist, lower-limb exoskeletons for this heterogeneous population. This paper introduces the Modular Backdrivable Lower-limb Unloading Exoskeleton (M-BLUE), which implements high torque, low mechanical impedance actuators on commercial orthoses with sheet metal modifications to produce a variety of hip- and/or knee-assisting configurations. Benchtop system identification verifies the desirable backdrive properties of the actuator, and allows for torque prediction within 0.4 Nm. An able-bodied human subject experiment demonstrates that three unilateral configurations of M-BLUE (hip only, knee only, and hip-knee) with a simple gravity compensation controller can reduce muscle EMG readingsmore »in a lifting and lowering task relative to the bare condition. Reductions in mean muscular effort and peak muscle activation were seen across the primary squat musculature (excluding biceps femoris), demonstrating the potential to reduce fatigue leading to poor lifting posture. These promising results motivate applications of M-BLUE to additional populations, and the expansion of M-BLUE to bilateral and ankle configurations.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023
  2. 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 motormore »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.« less
  3. Task-invariant control methods for powered exoskeletons provide flexibility in assisting humans across multiple activities and environments. Energy shaping control serves this purpose by altering the human body’s dynamic characteristics in closed loop. Our previous work on potential energy shaping alters the gravitational vector to reduce the user’s perceived gravity, but this method cannot provide velocity-dependent assistance. The interconnection and damping assignment passivity-based control (IDA-PBC) method provides more freedom to shape a dynamical system’s energy through the interconnection structure of a port-controlled Hamiltonian system model. This paper derives a novel energetic control strategy based on IDA-PBC for a backdrivable knee-ankle exoskeleton.more »The control law provides torques that depend on various basis functions related to gravitational and gyroscopic terms. We optimize a set of constant weighting parameters for these basis functions to obtain a control law that produces able-bodied joint torques during walking on multiple ground slopes. We perform experiments with an able-bodied human subject wearing a knee-ankle exoskeleton to demonstrate reduced activation in certain lower-limb muscles.« less
  4. This paper presents the design and implementation of a novel multi-activity control strategy for a backdrivable knee-ankle exoskeleton. Traditionally, exoskeletons have used trajectory-based control of highly geared actuators for complete motion assistance. In contrast, we develop a potential energy shaping controller with ground reaction force (GRF) feedback that facilitates multi-activity assistance from a backdrivable exoskeleton without prescribing pre-defined kinematics. Although potential energy shaping was previously implemented in an exoskeleton to reduce the user’s perceived gravity, this model-based approach assumes the stance leg is fully loaded with the weight of the user, resulting in excessive control torques as weight transfers tomore »the contralateral leg during double support. The presented approach uses GRF feedback to taper the torque control output for any activity involving multiple supports, leading to a closer match with normative joint moments in simulations based on pre-recorded human data during level walking. To implement this strategy, we present a custom foot force sensor that provides GRF feedback to the previously designed exoskeleton. Finally, results from an able-bodied human subject experiment demonstrate that the exoskeleton is able to reduce muscular activation of the primary muscles related to the knee and ankle joints during sit-to-stand, stand-to-sit, level walking, and stair climbing.« less
  5. Task-invariant feedback control laws for powered exoskeletons are preferred to assist human users across varying locomotor activities. This goal can be achieved with energy shaping methods, where certain nonlinear partial differential equations, i.e., matching conditions, must be satisfied to find the achievable dynamics. Based on the energy shaping methods, open-loop systems can be mapped to closed-loop systems with a desired analytical expression of energy. In this paper, the desired energy consists of modified potential energy that is well-defined and unified across different contact conditions along with the energy of virtual springs and dampers that improve energy recycling during walking. Themore »human-exoskeleton system achieves the input-output passivity and Lyapunov stability during the whole walking period with the proposed method. The corresponding controller provides assistive torques that closely match the human torques of a simulated biped model and able-bodied human subjects’ data.« less
  6. Although there has been recent progress in control of multi-joint prosthetic legs for rhythmic tasks such as walking, control of these systems for non-rhythmic motions and general real-world maneuvers is still an open problem. In this article, we develop a new controller that is capable of both rhythmic (constant-speed) walking, transitions between speeds and/or tasks, and some common volitional leg motions. We introduce a new piecewise holonomic phase variable, which, through a finite state machine, forms the basis of our controller. The phase variable is constructed by measuring the thigh angle, and the transitions in the finite state machine aremore »formulated through sensing foot contact along with attributes of a nominal reference gait trajectory. The controller was implemented on a powered knee-ankle prosthesis and tested with a transfemoral amputee subject, who successfully performed a wide range of rhythmic and non-rhythmic tasks, including slow and fast walking, quick start and stop, backward walking, walking over obstacles, and kicking a soccer ball. Use of the powered leg resulted in clinically significant reductions in amputee compensations for rhythmic tasks (including vaulting and hip circumduction) when compared to use of the take-home passive leg. In addition, considerable improvements were also observed in the performance for non-rhythmic tasks. The proposed approach is expected to provide a better understanding of rhythmic and non-rhythmic motions in a unified framework, which in turn can lead to more reliable control of multi-joint prostheses for a wider range of real-world tasks.« less
  7. 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 ofmore »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.« less
  8. Although there has been recent progress in control of multi-joint prosthetic legs for periodic tasks such as walking, volitional control of these systems for non-periodic maneuvers is still an open problem. In this paper, we develop a new controller that is capable of both periodic walking and common volitional leg motions based on a piecewise holonomic phase variable through a finite state machine. The phase variable is constructed by measuring the thigh angle, and the transitions in the finite state machine are formulated through sensing foot contact together with attributes of a nominal reference gait trajectory. The controller was implementedmore »on a powered knee-ankle prosthesis and tested with a transfemoral amputee subject, who successfully performed a wide range of periodic and non-periodic tasks, including low- and high-speed walking, quick start and stop, backward walking, walking over obstacles, and kicking a soccer ball. The proposed approach is expected to provide better understanding of volitional motions and lead to more reliable control of multi-joint prostheses for a wider range of tasks.« less