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  1. Robotic knee-ankle prostheses have often fallen short relative to passive microprocessor prostheses in time-based clinical outcome tests. User ambulation endurance is an alternative clinical outcome metric that may better highlight the benefits of robotic prostheses. However, previous studies were unable to show endurance benefits due to inaccurate high-level classification, discretized mid-level control, and insufficiently difficult ambulation tasks. In this case study, we present a phase-based mid-level prosthesis controller which yields biomimetic joint kinematics and kinetics that adjust to suit a continuum of tasks. We enrolled an individual with an above-knee amputation and challenged him to perform repeated, rapid laps of a circuit comprising activities of daily living with both his passive prosthesis and a robotic prosthesis. The participant demonstrated improved endurance with the robotic prosthesis and our mid-level controller compared to his passive prosthesis, completing over twice as many total laps before fatigue and muscle discomfort required him to stop. We also show that time-based outcome metrics fail to capture this endurance improvement, suggesting that alternative metrics related to endurance and fatigue may better highlight the clinical benefits of robotic prostheses. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  2. This paper presents a method to design a nonholonomic virtual constraint (NHVC) controller that produces multiple distinct stance-phase trajectories for corresponding walking speeds. NHVCs encode velocity-dependent joint trajectories via momenta conjugate to the unactuated degree(s)-of-freedom of the system. We recently introduced a method for designing NHVCs that allow for stable bipedal robotic walking across variable terrain slopes. This work extends the notion of NHVCs for application to variable-cadence powered prostheses. Using the segmental conjugate momentum for the prosthesis, an optimization problem is used to design a single stance-phase NHVC for three distinct walking speed trajectories (slow, normal, and fast). This stance-phase controller is implemented with a holonomic swing phase controller on a powered knee-ankle prosthesis, and experiments are conducted with an able-bodied user walking in steady and non-steady velocity conditions. The control scheme is capable of representing 1) multiple, task-dependent reference trajectories, and 2) walking gait variance due to both temporal and kinematic changes in user motion. 
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  3. Passive prostheses cannot provide the net positive work required at the knee and ankle for step-over stair ascent. Powered prostheses can provide this net positive work, but user synchronization of joint motion and power input are critical to enabling natural stair ascent gaits. In this work, we build on previous phase variable-based control methods for walking and propose a stair ascent controller driven by the motion of the user's residual thigh. We use reference kinematics from an able-bodied dataset to produce knee and ankle joint trajectories parameterized by gait phase. We redefine the gait cycle to begin at the point of maximum hip flexion instead of heel strike to improve the phase estimate. Able-bodied bypass adapter experiments demonstrate that the phase variable controller replicates normative able-bodied kinematic trajectories with a root mean squared error of 12.66 deg and 2.64 deg for the knee and ankle, respectively. The knee and ankle joints provided on average 0.387J/kg and 0.212J/kg per stride, compared to the normative averages of 0.335J/kg and 0.207J/kg, respectively. Thus, this controller allows powered knee-ankle prostheses to perform net positive mechanical work to assist stair ascent. 
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  4. 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 readings 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. 
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  5. Abstract This paper explores new ways to use energy shaping and regulation methods in walking systems to generate new passive-like gaits and dynamically transition between them. We recapitulate a control framework for Lagrangian hybrid systems, and show that regulating a state varying energy function is equivalent to applying energy shaping and regulating the system to a constant energy value. We then consider a simple one-dimensional hopping robot and show how energy shaping and regulation control can be used to generate and transition between nearly globally stable hopping limit cycles. The principles from this example are then applied on two canonical walking models, the spring loaded inverted pendulum (SLIP) and compass gait biped, to generate and transition between locomotive gaits. These examples show that piecewise jumps in control parameters can be used to achieve stable changes in desired gait characteristics dynamically/online. 
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  6. Natural dynamics, nonlinear optimization, and, more recently, convex optimization are available methods for stiffness design of energy-efficient series elastic actuators. Natural dynamics and general nonlinear optimization only work for a limited set of load kinetics and kinematics, cannot guarantee convergence to a global optimum, or depend on initial conditions to the numerical solver. Convex programs alleviate these limitations and allow a global solution in polynomial time, which is useful when the space of optimization variables grows (e.g., when designing optimal nonlinear springs or co-designing spring, controller, and reference trajectories). Our previous work introduced the stiffness design of series elastic actuators via convex optimization when the transmission dynamics are negligible, which is an assumption that applies mostly in theory or when the actuator uses a direct or quasi-direct drive. In this work, we extend our analysis to include friction at the transmission. Coulomb friction at the transmission results in a non-convex expression for the energy dissipated as heat, but we illustrate a convex approximation for stiffness design. We experimentally validated our framework using a series elastic actuator with specifications similar to the knee joint of the Open Source Leg, an open-source robotic knee-ankle prosthesis. 
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  7. null (Ed.)
    In this work, we introduce a novel approach to assistive exoskeleton (or powered orthosis) control which avoids needing task and gait phase information. Our approach is based on directly designing the Hamiltonian dynamics of the target closed-loop behavior, shaping the energy of the human and the robot. Relative to previous energy shaping controllers for assistive exoskeletons, we introduce ground reaction force and torque information into the target behavior definition, reformulate the kinematics so as to avoid explicit matching conditions due to under-actuation, and avoid the need to switch between swing and stance energy shapes. Our controller introduces new states into the target Hamiltonian energy that represent a virtual second leg that is connected to the physical leg using virtual springs. The impulse the human imparts to the physical leg is amplified and applied to the virtual leg, but the ground reaction force acts only on the physical leg. A state transformation allows the proposed control to be available using only encoders, an IMU, and ground reaction force sensors. We prove that this controller is stable and passive when acted on by the ground reaction force and demonstrate the controller's strength amplifying behavior in a simulation. A linear analysis based on small signal assumptions allows us to explain the relationship between our tuning parameters and the frequency domain amplification bandwidth. 
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  8. null (Ed.)
    Powered prosthetic legs can improve the quality of life for people with transfemoral amputations by providing net positive work at the knee and ankle, reducing the effort required from the wearer, and making more tasks possible. However, the controllers for these devices use finite state machines that limit their use to a small set of pre-defined tasks that require many hours of tuning for each user. In previous work, we demonstrated that a continuous parameterization of joint kinematics over walking speeds and inclines provides more accurate predictions of reference kinematics for control than a finite state machine. However, our previous work did not account for measurement errors in gait phase, walking speed, and ground incline, nor subject-specific differences in reference kinematics, which occur in practice. In this work, we conduct a pilot experiment to characterize the accuracy of speed and incline measurements using sensors onboard our prototype prosthetic leg and simulate phase measurements on ten able-bodied subjects using archived motion capture data. Our analysis shows that given demonstrated accuracy for speed, incline, and phase estimation, a continuous parameterization provides statistically significantly better predictions of knee and ankle kinematics than a comparable finite state machine, but both methods' primary source of predictive error is subject deviation from average kinematics. 
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