To empower the new generation of robots with the necessary adaptability, robustness and resilience to be deployed and effectively used within human workspace and be able to physically interact safely with human and the environment the key asset of the lab is the technology of soft robotics actuation. In this approach, the traditional rigid and brittle actuation is replaced by compliant structural elements and elastic actuators, to allow withstanding large force peaks, contact uncertainties and energy exchange with the environment, but also safe interaction with humans. The lab have considerable experience and expertise in developing advanced soft robotic technologies, which can be effectively exploited in the next generation of humanoids, wearable robotic systems and robot co-workers.
We investigate novel joint actuation and elastic transmission systems solutions and their associate control schemes that can demonstrate energy efficient and high peak operation using large energy storage capacity elements, efficient actuation drivers and energy recycling techniques. The developed actuators are considered for walking, hopping and in general legged robots, including full humanoids and exoskeletons. Research in the utility and control of the actuator extend also toward energy storage and recovery in high power bursts such as throwing, kicking and jumping of anthropomorphic robots. This work activity is in line with the work-plan of several EU projects (VIACTORS, SAPHARI and WALK-MAN) in which the Humanoid and Human Centred Mechatronics lab has a major role.
One of the system requirements for future mobile robots is long-term power autonomy. The lab address the need for better efficiency considering the mechanical optimization of lightweight structures, selection of kinematics, relocation and efficiency of actuators and transmission systems, including energy-storage concepts (similar to those in the actuation technologies). Our objective is to derive methodologies and demonstrate how these techniques combined with distributed physical compliance can be systematically tuned to maximize the robot efficiency. Within this process we study and develop simulation tools and precise mathematical models for soft robotics systems that guide the design process of the physical robots.