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  1. Abstract The mechanical impedance of the joints of the leg governs the body's response to external disturbances, and its regulation is essential for the completion of tasks of daily life. However, it is still unclear how this quantity is regulated at the knee during dynamic tasks. In this work, we introduce a method to estimate the mechanical impedance of spring-mass systems using a torque-controllable exoskeleton with the intention of extending these methods to characterize the mechanical impedance of the human knee during locomotion. We characterize system bandwidth and intrinsic impedance and present a perturbation-based methodology to identify the mechanical impedance of known spring-mass systems. Our approach was able to obtain accurate estimates of stiffness and inertia, with errors under 3% and ∼13–16%, respectively. This work provides a qualitative and quantitative foundation that will enable accurate estimates of knee joint impedance during locomotion in future works.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2023
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Abstract

    In individuals with lower-limb amputations, robotic prostheses can increase walking speed, and reduce energy use, the incidence of falls and the development of secondary complications. However, safe and reliable prosthetic-limb control strategies for robust ambulation in real-world settings remain out of reach, partly because control strategies have been tested with different robotic hardware in constrained laboratory settings. Here, we report the design and clinical implementation of an integrated robotic knee–ankle prosthesis that facilitates the real-world testing of its biomechanics and control strategies. The bionic leg is open source, it includes software for low-level control and for communication with control systems, and its hardware design is customizable, enabling reduction in its mass and cost, improvement in its ease of use and independent operation of the knee and ankle joints. We characterized the electromechanical and thermal performance of the bionic leg in benchtop testing, as well as its kinematics and kinetics in three individuals during walking on level ground, ramps and stairs. The open-source integrated-hardware solution and benchmark data that we provide should help with research and clinical testing of knee–ankle prostheses in real-world environments.

  6. Recently, brushless motors with especially high torque densities have been developed for applications in autonomous aerial vehicles (i.e. drones), which usually employ exterior rotortype geometries (ER-BLDC motors). These motors are promising for other applications, such as humanoids and wearable robots; however, the emerging companies that produce motors for drone applications do not typically provide adequate technical specifications that would permit their general use across robotics-for example, the specifications are often tested in unrealistic forced convection environments, or are drone-specific, such as thrust efficiency. Furthermore, the high magnetic pole count in many ER-BLDC motors restricts the brushless drives able to efficiently commutate these motors at speeds needed for lightly-geared operation. This paper provides an empirical characterization of a popular ER-BLDC motor and a new brushless drive, which includes efficiencies of the motor across different power regimes, identification of the motor transfer function coefficients, thermal response properties, and closed loop control performance in the time and frequency domains. The intent of this work is to serve as a benchmark and reference for other researchers seeking to utilize these exciting and emerging motor geometries.
  7. Challenges associated with current prosthetic technologies limit the quality of life of lower-limb amputees. Passive prostheses lead amputees to walk slower, use more energy, fall more often, and modify their gait patterns to compensate for the prosthesis’ lack of net-positive mechanical energy. Robotic prostheses can provide mechanical energy, but may also introduce challenges through controller design. Fortunately, talented researchers are studying how to best control robotic leg prostheses, but the time and resources required to develop prosthetic hardware has limited their potential impact. Even after research is completed, comparison of results is confounded by the use of different, researcher-specific hardware. To address these issues, we have developed the Open-source Leg (OSL): a scalable robotic knee/ankle prosthesis intended to foster investigations of control strategies. This paper introduces the design goals, transmission selection, hardware implementation, and initial control benchmarks for the OSL. The OSL provides a common hardware platform for comparison of control strategies, lowers the barrier to entry for prosthesis research, and enables testing within the lab, community, and at home.
  8. Challenges associated with current prosthetic technologies limit the quality of life of lower-limb amputees. Passive prostheses lead amputees to walk slower, use more energy, fall more often, and modify their gait patterns to compensate for the prosthesis' lack of net-positive mechanical energy. Robotic prostheses can provide mechanical energy, but may also introduce challenges through controller design. Fortunately, talented researchers are studying how to best control robotic leg prostheses, but the time and resources required to develop prosthetic hardware has limited their potential impact. Even after research is completed, comparison of results is confounded by the use of different, researcher-specific hardware. To address these issues, we have developed the Open-source Leg (OSL): a scalable robotic knee/ankle prosthesis intended to foster investigations of control strategies. This paper introduces the design goals, transmission selection, hardware implementation, and initial control benchmarks for the OSL. The OSL provides a common hardware platform for comparison of control strategies, lowers the barrier to entry for prosthesis research, and enables testing within the lab, community, and at home.