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  1. Because of the complex nature of soft robots, formulating dynamic models that are simple, efficient, and sufficiently accurate for simulation or control is a difficult task. This paper introduces an algorithm based on a recursive Newton-Euler (RNE) approach that enables an accurate and tractable lumped parameter dynamic model. This model scales linearly in computational complexity with the number of discrete segments. We validate this model by comparing it to actual hardware data from a three-joint continuum soft robot (with six degrees of freedom represented in a constant curvature kinematic model). The results show that this RNE-based model can be computed faster than real-time. We also show that with minimal system identification, a simulation performed using the dynamic model matches the real robot data with a median error of 3.15 degrees.
  2. This paper presents an observer architecture that can estimate a set of configuration space variables, their rates of change and contact forces of a fabric-reinforced inflatable soft robot. We discretized the continuum robot into a sequence of discs connected by inextensible threads; this allows great flexibility when describing the robot’s behavior. At first, the system dynamics is described by a linear parameter-varying (LPV) model that includes a set of subsystems, each of which corresponds to a particular range of chamber pressure. A real-world challenge we confront is that the physical robot prototype exhibits a hysteresis loop whose directions depend on whether the chamber is inflating or deflating. In this paper we transform the hysteresis model to a semilinear model to avoid backward-in-time definitions, making it suitable for observer and controller design. The final model describing the soft robot, including the discretized continuum and hysteresis behavior, is called the semilinear parameter-varying (SPV) model. The semilinear parameter-varying observer architecture includes a set of sub-observers corresponding to the subsystems for each chamber pressure range in the SPV model. The proposed observer is evaluated through simulations and experiments. Simulation results show that the observer can estimate the configuration space variables and their rate ofmore »change with no steady-state error. In addition, experimental results display fast convergence of generalized contact force estimates and good tracking of the robot’s configuration relative to ground-truth motion capture data.« less
  3. Model-based optimal control of soft robots may enable compliant, underdamped platforms to operate in a repeatable fashion and effectively accomplish tasks that are otherwise impossible for soft robots. Unfortunately, developing accurate analytical dynamic models for soft robots is time-consuming, difficult, and error-prone. Deep learning presents an alternative modeling approach that only requires a time history of system inputs and system states, which can be easily measured or estimated. However, fully relying on empirical or learned models involves collecting large amounts of representative data from a soft robot in order to model the complex state space–a task which may not be feasible in many situations. Furthermore, the exclusive use of empirical models for model-based control can be dangerous if the model does not generalize well. To address these challenges, we propose a hybrid modeling approach that combines machine learning methods with an existing first-principles model in order to improve overall performance for a sampling-based non-linear model predictive controller. We validate this approach on a soft robot platform and demonstrate that performance improves by 52% on average when employing the combined model.
  4. This paper presents methods for placing length sensors on a soft continuum robot joint as well as a novel configuration estimation method that drastically minimizes configuration estimation error. The methods utilized for placing sensors along the length of the joint include a single joint length sensor, sensors lined end-to-end, sensors that overlap according to a heuristic, and sensors that are placed by an optimization that we describe in this paper. The methods of configuration estimation include directly relating sensor length to a segment of the joint's angle, using an equal weighting of overlapping sensors that cover a joint segment, and using a weighted linear combination of all sensors on the continuum joint. The weights for the linear combination method are determined using robust linear regression. Using a kinematic simulation we show that placing three or more overlapping sensors and estimating the configuration with a linear combination of sensors resulted in a median error of 0.026% of the max range of motion or less. This is over a 500 times improvement as compared to using a single sensor to estimate the joint configuration. This error was computed across 80 simulated robots of different lengths and ranges of motion. We also foundmore »that the fully optimized sensor placement performed only marginally better than the placement of sensors according to the heuristic. This suggests that the use of a linear combination of sensors, with weights found using linear regression is more important than the placement of the overlapping sensors. Further, using the heuristic significantly simplifies the application of these techniques when designing for hardware.« less